This Article is From Mar 15, 2021

Why An Injured Mamata Now Has Bigger Advantage Over BJP

The elections in West Bengal have been turned into a full-fledged war by the BJP. That leaves Mamata Banerjee with no choice but to arm herself with all kinds of tricks. The two incidents which will define these elections are Mamata Banerjee chanting the Chandi Paath from a political platform and campaigning in a wheelchair with her leg in a plaster. The BJP may have to later regret being over-aggressive in targeting her personally.

As a leader, Mamata Banerjee has not been thrust from the top. She has risen from the street, and if today she is a formidable leader in her own right, it is because of her street-fighter spirit. Originally from the Congress, when she realised that her ambitions were being stifled by the party bosses in the mid-1990s, she rebelled and formed her own party. It was a huge decision - in those days, it was believed that any leader who broke from the party did not survive long, there being only a few exceptions like Sharad Pawar. Before she rebelled, two stalwarts of the Congress, Arjun Singh and N.D. Tiwari, had revolted against the leadership of Narasimha Rao, formed a rival party, and contested the election in the hope that their party would be recognised as the real Congress. This experiment did not last long and both the leaders had to rejoin their parent organization.

But after Mamata Banerjee left the Congress, she never looked back. She passed through turbulent times but did not entertain the idea of going back to the Congress, like Pranab Mukherjee. Mamata fought and fought. She preferred to align with the BJP than to surrender to Sonia Gandhi despite having a cordial relationship with her. Finally, her hard work paid off; in 2011, she emerged victorious, defeating the CPM-led Left Front in West Bengal and formed the government.

The Left at one time was seen as invincible in West Bengal. Mamata Banerjee did the unthinkable. Once, she was attacked by Left goons. That did not deter her. Any other politician would have lost hope but not her. And in Nandigram and Singur, she discovered how to best the Left. So, if the BJP imagined that she can be scared by a ruthless and incessant attack, they should be blamed for not doing their homework. She is a politician who excels in adversity and revels in a pitched battle.

The BJP has undoubtedly seen phenomenal growth in the state. In the 2014 parliamentary elections, the BJP had 16% vote share and three Lok Sabha seats. But in five years' time, the BJP bounced back with an unprecedented gain of 24% votes with 18 parliamentary seats vis-à-vis 24 to the Trinamool Congress. These are scary numbers. And one could imagine that the BJP's numbers will further improve.

But the story has a twist. Mamata Banerjee's social base is unscathed by the BJP's growth. The Trinamool Congress has consistently got 42% to 45% votes since the 2011 election when she defeated the Left Front for the first time. The BJP has gained at the cost of the Left and the Congress. After splitting the Congress, she hijacked its social base too. Most Congress voters moved to Mamata Banerjee. And when ‘disillusioned' Left voters joined her band wagon, she demolished the Left Front. Now the Congress and the Left are aligned, but they don't in any way pose a threat to either Mamata Banerjee or the BJP.

In Bengal, Muslims play a very decisive role. The community makes up approximately 27% of the population per the 2011 census. In 34 years of uninterrupted Left rule, the majority of Muslims were solidly with the Left Front. Now this vote has shifted its allegiance to Mamata Banerjee. The BJP is right in attacking Mamata Banerjee for indulging in Muslim appeasement and ignoring Hindus. But in its ideological over-zealousness, it has gone overboard. Its hyperbolic, high-decibel, extra-aggressive polarising campaign could prove detrimental.

The apprehension that the Muslim vote could be split between the Trinamool and Left-Congress seems misplaced; in fact, the minority vote is getting further consolidated behind Mamata Banerjee. There is speculation that more than 85% of Muslims will prefer voting for her, which was not the case earlier. If that happens, it will be tough for the BJP to dislodge her. Even if the BJP were to manage polarising the Hindu vote, it is difficult to imagine that the non-Muslim population, all 70 percent of it, 70% would vote for the BJP.

There is no denying the fact that the BJP-RSS combine has succeeded in garnering a major chunk of Hindu votes, but except in a few North Indian states, this vote share does not cross 50% of the votes polled. This phenomenon is also Modi-specific. In assembly elections where Modi is not the candidate, the BJP vote share shows a massive dip of 8% to 24%. The data analysis of 12 assembly elections vis-à-vis national elections since 2017 clearly reinforces this pattern. In the recently-held Jharkhand election, the BJP had a catastrophic loss of 24% votes. Similarly, the BJP lost 17% votes in Bihar, 18% in Delhi, and in Maharashtra and Haryana, the figures are 8% and 22% respectively.

In these states, elections were held after the 2019 parliamentary elections in which the BJP procured a historic mandate with 303 seats and a gain of 6% votes in comparison to the 2014 parliamentary elections. It can be argued that the dip in the states is due to the anti-incumbency sentiment of the voters. But this argument does not hold ground In Delhi and Odisha. In Odisha, the vote share gap between parliamentary and assembly elections is 10%. Delhi is a classic case. In 2019, the BJP won all seven seats and the Aam Aadmi Party was pushed to third spot, but in the assembly polls, the AAP won 62 seats with 54% votes. And the BJP, which had 57% votes in 2019, could manage only 39%. This clearly establishes that a large section of voters makes a clear distinction between the BJP and Modi. He carries an extra 8% to 10% votes which is deposited in his personal account and does not transfer to the BJP in the assembly elections.

It is always hazardous to make a political prediction, but if one is guided by this logic, then the BJP's chances in West Bengal are slim. Because by this logic, the BJP will find it difficult to repeat its 2019 performance and could lose an extra 4% to 5% extra votes this time. In fact, West Bengal data also supports this logic. In the 2016 assembly election, the BJP vote share showed a dip of 6% in comparison to 2014. In this context, Mamata Banerjee's new efforts to project herself as a Hindu leader will increase the BJP's headache. And if her plastered leg provokes sympathy votes, the BJP could be in big trouble.

(Ashutosh is Author and Editor, 

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