In Bengal, Will ‘Modi Factor’ Alone Help BJP ‘Oust’ Mamata’s TMC?

To neutralise the anti-incumbency wave, Mamata’s party must put up fresh faces and deny tickets to sitting MLAs. 

Published
Opinion
5 min read
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With the Bengal elections ‘round the corner and heated debate and discussion over the chief contenders’ prospects, a lot seems to be at stake for both the Trinamool (TMC) and the BJP. And Mamata Banerjee’s TMC is certainly not taking the BJP lightly after its performance in the 2019 general elections.

The TMC has launched its slogan ‘khela hobe’ (game is on) which has gone viral and caught the imagination of the youth in the state.

“We accept all challenges. In the year 2021, a game will be played. I will be the goalkeeper. Let us see who wins,” Mamata Banerjee said, participating in an event to observe International Mother Language Day.

Countering the ‘khela hobe’ motto of the TMC, Prime Minister Modi, at the recent Brigade Parade rally, claimed that the “game is over” for the TMC.

“… they keep saying ‘is baar khela hobe. Truly, these people are experienced and know how to play. What ‘khel’ have you left? Now listen to the roar emerging from all sides, TMC ka khela shesh. Khel khatam!”

Will Mamata’s Popularity be Enough for TMC to Hold Onto Power?

Initial polls predict the return of Mamata Banerjee as the chief minister of Bengal for a third consecutive time. However, we have seen in the past that initial polls have a bias in favour of the incumbent and the actual tally is much lower — as was the case with the BJP in Maharashtra, Haryana and Bihar.

Mamata tops the voters’ choice for the best chief ministerial candidate. She leads by over 20 percentage points against Dilip Ghosh, Mukul Roy and Suvendu Adhikari combined.

Normally, the party whose CM face leads the race, goes on to win the elections.

However, in states where the Opposition doesn’t declare a CM candidate, this metric doesn’t work. Both Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Raman Singh were leading the popularity charts in their respective states — the Congress had not declared a CM face — and the BJP suffered a loss.

The Modi factor has helped the BJP conquer state after state.

From 2014 to 2019, the Hindu right wing party won 9 states being in the opposition ranks, having declared a CM face only in two states — Assam and Himachal. Its biggest victory in Uttar Pradesh was without a face, while in Himachal its CM face lost the polls.

However, wherever Modi has encountered a tough opponent / popular chief minister, the BJP has lost polls such as in Bihar (2015), Delhi (2020) and Odisha (2019). In all these states the popularity of the chief minister was greater than the prime minister. Mamata is marginally ahead of Modi in terms of ratings, at this juncture, in Bengal.

A Hindu Awakening in Bengal

Ten years is a long enough time to develop anti-incumbency. The public has become discerning and brutal, and since 2014 has voted out 75 percent of incumbent state governments. There is now zero tolerance for non-performance. This fact should scare the TMC and its supporters.

To neutralise this anti-incumbency wave, Mamata’s party needs to put up fresh faces and deny tickets to sitting MLAs. The TMC, taking a cue, has taken away the tickets of 64 sitting MLAs — 30 percent of its total strength.

The BJP is countering this through its ‘double engine ki sarkaar’ slogan. It has highlighted the fact that for the past 50 years, the state government in Bengal has been at loggerheads with the central government, resulting in low growth, lack of development / industrialisation and backwardness of Bengal.

A Hindu awakening saw the BJP emerging as the main opposition in Bengal, rendering the Left Front a non-entity in the 2019 general elections. A study by Yale shows that polarisation helps the BJP. Its promise of “weeding out illegal migrants” has certainly grabbed eyeballs and given it the traction it was seeking.

The TMC has invoked ‘Bengali pride’ and launched an ‘insider versus outsider’ campaign to hinder the BJP juggernaut.

This is gaining traction and BJP has gone on a hiring spree to appear more ‘local’. It is reminding the people of the state that Syama Prasad Mookerjee, who founded the BJP’s parent organisation — the Jan Sangh — belonged to Bengal. Thus, trying to establish that it has pre-TMC roots in Beng

Fuel Price Rise Could Become BJP’s Achilles’ Heel in Bengal

The woman voter saved the NDA from a loss in Bihar. The woman voter could become the saviour of Mamata Banerjee too, this time around. More women support Mamata than men, and their turnout is higher than men in Bengal.

Schemes like ‘Kanyashree’, ‘Rupashree’ and ‘Sabooj Sathi’ are very popular with the women of the state.

The TMC has given tickets to 50 women candidates for the assembly polls. The ‘Bengal’s own daughter’ campaign has also struck a chord with the women of Bengal.

The BJP is ahead in the perception battle as per the C-Voter survey and this could impact the voting decision of 12-15 percent of the undecided voters in the state. The TMC has to guard against this phenomenon.

Price rise is a touchy subject in Bengal, and the recent fuel price hikes could cost the BJP dearly. The TMC has been harping on this non-stop; Mamata even led an all-women e-bike rally against the LPG cylinder price hike.

While the TMC is projecting Mamata as the champion of the poor and downtrodden, the BJP has accused her of denying the poor of the state the benefit of central government schemes. On the back foot, the state government has also initiated the implementation of the PM Kisan Nidhi Scheme recently.

Bengal Polls: BJP’s Hopes for Split in Minority Vote

The fight for the Muslim vote has intensified with the induction of the Indian Secular Front (ISF) in the Mahajot, and the AIMIM contesting a few seats. The BJP hopes this will lead to the split of minority votes and help its prospects. On the other hand, the TMC hopes the Left Front will recoup some of its lost vote share and thus damage the BJP.

The TMC hopes a section of Matuas, who hold influence over 40-45 seats, will desert the BJP due to its dilly-dallying and buying time for the implementation of the CAA.

The BJP is attempting to paint the TMC with the same brush of corruption, dynastic politics and minority appeasement, with which it managed to diminish the Congress at the national level.

The TMC hopes that Mamata challenging Suvendu in Nandigram will prevent him from campaigning in other parts of the state, thereby restricting the damage caused by his exodus.

There are many moving parts in the Bengal election puzzle, and only time will tell whether it is ‘khela hobe’ or ‘khela shesh’ for the TMC.

(The author is an independent political commentator and can be reached at @politicalbaaba. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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