Bengal Elections: For BJP, Is This a ‘Throwback’ to 2014 Summer?

A victory in Bengal would definitely be the sweetest of all state victories for the BJP.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
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The Election Commission of India recently announced the schedule for polls in five states slated in April 2021; the state that garnered the most attention was Bengal.

Bengal seems to be the last fortress of the East that is still untouched by the BJP.

The BJP is entering the Bengal polls as the challenger, a quasi unfamiliar stance for the party which has been steamrolling geographies, election after election, in the recent past. Although the BJP secured 18/42 Lok Sabha seats in Bengal with a healthy 41 percent vote share in the 2019 general elections, 2021 appears to be a totally different ball game. Make no mistake, BJP is at its best when it contests elections as the opposition.

Suddenly, it’s beginning to feel a lot like the Summer of 2014.

Will an 8-Phase Election Help BJP in Bengal?

The well oiled election machinery of the BJP is approaching Bengal with all guns blazing. The addition of key faces like Suvendu Adhikari (the chief architect of the Nandigram agitation and former transport minister) and Rajib Banerjee (former minister of forests) has provided some relief to the party that has been craving credible faces in the state. Suvendu brings with him a massive vote base across 16 constituencies of East Midnapore, and his influence in the districts of West Midnapore, Bankura, Purulia, Murshidabad and Malda. Rajib, an MBA graduate, with his crystal clear image and a stellar ministerial track record, could be beneficial to the overall image of the party.

A carefully curated 8-phase election schedule is what the BJP is counting on. The BJP lacks grassroots presence in the state and can barely compete with the All India Trinamool Congress cadres numerically.

Politics, as they say, is a way of life in Bengal. Every household in Bengal is politically aware, if not engaged. But it would be naive to extrapolate parliamentary election results to assembly elections. Voters in Bengal clearly differentiate between the two, therefore, it is imperative for a party to have a sound ground presence to disseminate the party's message and build a recall around it.

The BJP’s Strongholds & How Jungle Mahal Became a Bastion

The BJP is expected to rely heavily on its cadre strength in the adjoining states of Bihar, Jharkhand and Assam. Mercenaries from these states crossed the borders in the by polls of 2018, campaigned for the party and returned to their homes. A similar pattern is set to repeat in the upcoming elections, albeit, across all 294 constituencies. An 8-phase schedule will allow the BJP to judiciously deploy a limited number of workers as per the requirement. Polling begins from the jungle mahal districts of the state, an upcoming stronghold of the BJP.

The jungle mahal region, an erstwhile Left bastion, has embraced the BJP with open arms in the recent past, testimony to that being the 2019 general election results in the districts of Purulia, Bankura and West Midnapore.

The BJP is bound to perform well in these districts again and a good start will help the party build the momentum that will carry it through the rigorous one month-long election schedule.

The BJP, if not on governance, has definitely outperformed every single party when it comes to holding incumbent governments accountable.

BJP’s Campaign Strategy: Is the Party Taking a Leaf Out of Prashant Kishor’s Playbook?

Although it has been a while since the BJP has run a show as the opposition (the last being UP in 2017), it looks all geared up to tackle Mamata Banerjee this time around. Amit Shah has been claiming a 2/3rd majority repeatedly over the past few weeks, that may well be an exaggeration — but the sheer audacity to claim 200+ seats shows the grounds that the BJP has covered in the recent years.

For any party that won 3 seats in 2016, the current No 2 position in the state may have seemed satisfactory, but the BJP is not just any party.

From the Tagore-esque bearded appearance of the prime minister to the recent borrowed ‘Pariborton Ki Tayari’ slogan, the BJP is not leaving any stone unturned. In addition to the usual pomp and show, the BJP launched the ‘Lokkho Sonar Bangla’ campaign on Saturday, seeking citizens’ participation in its manifesto preparation. As a part of the campaign, the ‘Pariborton Rath’ will be travelling to all 294 constituencies and will collect inputs from citizens apart from highlighting the achievements of the Narendra Modi government on large TV screens. This particular campaign seems to be straight out of Prashant Kishor’s playbook. Ace political strategist Kishor is the current political aide to Mamata Banerjee.

BJP’s Achilles’ Heel in Bengal

The BJP has covered all avenues of marketing for the Bengal election, to the extent that if you play the popular mobile game Candy Crush in Bengal, you are likely to see ads with the PM’s face and a message stating how 69 lakh women have benefited from the Swachh Bharat Yojana.

A victory in Bengal would definitely be the sweetest of all state victories for the BJP.

However, the BJP faces challenges of its own. The state leadership is essentially a congregation of political ‘opportunists’ with absolutely zero ideological positions.

Dilip Ghoshes, Mukul Roys and Suvendu Adhikaris of the world are in the party only because it appears to have better prospect. There are multiple factions in the BJP Bengal unit and they seem to be glued only with one objective — that is to decimate Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool. Whether that will be enough to see through the test only time will tell.

While it is going to be an interesting battle for sure, what needs to be seen is if it’s going to be the Summer of 2014 or not for the BJP.

(Anurag Singh is an entrepreneur and a political consultant currently working in his home state, Bihar. He has previously worked with Prashant Kishor's mentee organisation — Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC). Anurag handled multiple political campaigns in the rural districts of Bihar and West Bengal while at I-PAC. He tweets @anuragsingh22_. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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