2019 Elections will mark the Death of the Left and the rise of the BJP in Bengal

Context:

First, let’s take a look at what the parties managed to achieve in 2016 Assembly Elections of West Bengal.

In 2016

BJP contested 291 seats in WB assembly in which 263 seats were such in which their deposit was forfeited and they got a 10.24% vote share in total.

TMC got 211 out of 293 seats with 45.02% vote share.

Congress won 44 out of 92 seats it contested in alliance with the Left getting 40.22% vote share in these seats which are 12% of the overall vote share.

Clearly, what you can see above is that the votes of the BJP are concentrated in certain pockets only, hence although they got 10.24% of the votes in 263 out of the 291 seats that they contested in they lost their deposit. Whereas the combined Left have a healthy 37% vote share spread across Bengal against TMC’s 45%. The Congress is irrelevant now more than ever except they will cut into both TMC & Left’s vote bank thus helping BJP even more. In 2016 as you can see the Congress had the best conversion rate amongst all Left-Congress parties that contested against the TMC thus getting an overall 12% vote share of the total electorate by contesting in only 92 seats. It hence begs the question again about Left’s dogmatic approach to politics in general. Wasn’t it in their interest to stitch up an alliance before this general election to solidify their position as a clear number 2 which they are now at the risk of conceding to the BJP?

Where is BJP gaining most in?

BJP’s entire campaign narrative has been based on drawing fault lines between the Hindus and the Muslims, and they have succeeded largely. The Left are a bunch of parties who are majorly atheists and hence had no involvement with any religion. Neither were they Hinduvadis nor were they minority appeasers. The count of ministers conducting their own Durga Puja in Kolkata has increased ridiculously post 2011 (TMC coming to government). As TMC as a party doesn’t have any core ideology they are the ultimate opportunist and mostly ape their opponents wherever they see a threat rather than having a strong pan Bengal ideology. So they became more Left than the Left in Singur and Nandigram.

But after coming to power tirelessly wooed the same industrialists and are now portraying themselves to be more Hindu than the BJP as the BJP is now capitalizing on the fear that TMC’s minority appeasement has done to the Hindus in the last 8 years in Bengal. Mamata Banerjee can be seen chanting Saraswati Vanadana in a public rally in Bengal a couple of weeks ago while telling her attendees that she is more Hindu than her counterpart Modi. I’m not sure about the final tally of numbers but this in itself is a huge win for Modi & Shah as they have forced Mamata to fight them on the terms that they wanted and she clearly feels that her minority appeasement in the last 8 years is now coming back to haunt her. Sanjeeb Mukherjee, retired Professor of Political Science, Calcutta University says “ An important characteristic of Mamata is that she is a quick learner. Not having a strong ideology helps her to continuously improvise. This is a kind of jugaad in the world of politics.”

An article in Hindu that you may want to read in this context is: “The foot soldiers of Hindutva in West Bengal”

The seats in which the BJP will eventually turn out to be a force in are the border areas. With a strong assertion on NRC and a motivated campaign against illegal Bangladeshi Muslims, they are counting on the Muslim vote to get split amongst the TMC, Left and the Congress while they consolidate all the Hindu votes. So Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar, Malda and especially Murshidabad will be their key focus areas. These areas in all hold about 11 seats in all including Darjeeling which will be again going to BJP with a last-minute alliance that is stitched between the BJP and the two Gorkha parties (GNLF & Bimal Gurung’s GJM). So BJP in 2019 general election is looking to win at least 7–8 seats in total which look realistic considering the massive polarization that has happened in areas like Murshidabad which constitutes 70% of Muslim population and which BJP has branded as “Mini-Pakistan”.

Who stands to lose the most in this election?

The Left stands to lose the most this election. With the Muslims understanding the need to unify, they will vote like a “vote bank” in favor of the ruling party of West Bengal as in a first past the post system the voters always vote for the most winnable candidate if they desperately want to keep someone out. A recent example was the Delhi Assembly elections where Congress got wiped out and ended up with 0 seats as the Anti-BJP vote bank realized that voting for AAP is better than wasting their vote on the Congress. Having said that Left will still get a vote share of above 25%+. But this will be a unique election in which the two parties TMC & BJP will both grow their vote share and the Left & Congress will become irrelevant in the state. BJP precisely for this was chasing Sourav Ganguly to join their party so that they could project him as a CM candidate in Bengal which would have been an absolute game changer. Nobody in their current leadership can hold a candle against the mass appeal & charisma of Mamata Banerjee.

Other Factors:

The deflections from the TMC to BJP. Post the Sharada scam the ED and the CBI were hounding down the TMC MLAs and MPs and many of them even ended up being in jail. These politicians were cornered and had nowhere to go and in desperation were forced to join the BJP (equivalent to taking a dip in the holy river thus washing off one’s sins). These are Mukul Roy and Anupam Hazra along with other notable deflections like Soumitra Khan, Arjun Singh, Bharati Ghosh, Nitish Pramanik

Conclusion:

Well, this will be the most interesting election held in Bengal since the historic 2009 elections in which TMC for the first time ever won more seats than the Left in any general or assembly election which ultimately marked their downslide in 2011. So the final seat tally, in my opinion, will be the following:

Total Seats: 42

TMC: 32
Left: 2
BJP: 7
Congress: 1

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