By Ashis Biswas
In West Bengal, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may have touched rock bottom in terms of its electoral performance in the just concluded Kolkata Municipal polls. Yet some people take Dilip Ghosh, national vice-president, are declaring that in the next round of state-wide civic elections, the BJP would do much better, for reasons that do not exactly flatter him.
Under Ghosh, who was the Bengal BJP’s president before his recent elevation, the BJP’s political journey has taken the saffron party, as one observer put it, from the sewers to the stars — and back again! A cursory look at the party’s disconcertingly unpredictable record in winning/losing votes in major elections would endorse such a view.
For instance, the BJP did relatively well in winning a 17 per cent plus vote share in the shockingly conducted 2018 Bengal Panchayat polls. The ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) ended up winning over 45 per cent of the aggregate votes. It won 34 per cent of the seats unopposed, as neither the BJP, nor the CPIM) led-Left Front and Congress, could put up candidates in the face of the TMC’s rough house tactics. Over 50 people, mostly opposition supporters, were killed in the violent pre-poll campaigning..
A year later, the BJP came close to matching the ruling TMC seat for seat in the prestigious 2019 Lok Sabha polls. It won 18 seats out of 42, although it had won only 2 seats in 2009! The TMC won 22 seats as against 34 in 2009.In terms of vote share, the BJP won over 40 per cent as compared to the TMC’s 43 per cent.
In the recently held assembly polls earlier this year, the BJP faltered badly winning 77 out of 294 seats, belying the much higher expectations of its leaders and supporters. The TMC comfortably won over 210 even as MLAs from other parties including the BJP queued up to join the winners’ bandwagon. The TMC’s vote share exceeded 45 per cent but the runner-up BJP winning 38 per cent of the votes was no pushover.
However, the state BJP unit suffered a meltdown of sorts since the assembly polls. Always riven by petty inner party wrangles and squabbles, the party suffered badly frustration among old timers and hard core supporters reached a nadir.
They blamed the all-powerful Central Delhi-based leaders, who had taken over the state organisation before the polls. Delhi’s simple-minded tactic of welcoming all and sundry from the TMC into the party, luring them with poll tickets and other blandishments, bitterly backfired.
By and large, excepting Suvendu Adhikary and a few others, anti- incumbency-minded voters in Bengal did not support old, locally unpopular TMC men who were royally feted, dined and presented as new promising leaders under the saffron flag, by central leaders/ministers! Old BJP hands deserted their posts in droves in most districts.
The fault for the Bengal BJP’ debacle in the assembly elections could be squarely attributed to the pompous, high pitched, aggressive campaigning conducted by ‘national‘ BJP leaders.
It is not surprising that since May 2021, when the TMC emerged as the decisive winners in the assembly polls, hardly any ‘central’ BJP leader has so much as shown his face in Bengal — except for a brief under-publicised trip made by party president J.P. Nadda. There was also the unique spectacle of the central leaders blaming state BJP leaders and the latter accusing their central leaders for what was an ignominious defeat on all counts.
As one analyst wrote in an article, ‘The BJP through its botched up tactics snatched defeat out of the jaws of a possible victory—-nobody could deny that there was a strong anti-incumbency feeling in Bengal in 2021.’
Since then up to the KMC polls, the BJP’s vote share declined as sharply as a steep cliff! From around 38 per cent in May 2021, its share went down to around 24/25 per cent (approx) in the three following assembly by-elections the TMC won. Still, it retained its position as the number two party in Bengal, a distant second to the TMC.
And now the outcome of the KMC polls has robbed the BJP of even the protective fig leaf of its runner-up status: in Kolkata, Bengal’s capital, where the voting trends influence results in the rest of Bengal over time, the saffron party’s share is down to just around 9 per centof the aggregate. After a long period in the cold, the CPI(M)-led Left Front staged a minor recovery of sorts, coming in as a distant second to the TMC(74 per cent ), winning over 12 per cent of the aggregate votes.
After Ghosh, it is now the turn of the younger, more polished Sukanta Majumdar to take over the state BJP’s reigns as president. His brief tenure so far has been generally positive as he is mercifully free from one dreadful habit that often spoiled Ghosh’s stature as a leader – of making outrageously tasteless remarks that bewildered and annoyed people!
However, it cannot be denied that if Ghosh’s stewardship carried his party through a roller-coaster ride, the high point of 2019 LS polls too was achieved under him — not to mention the steady growth in the party’s support base among people from 2018 to 2021, despite occasional setbacks.
Both Ghosh and Majumder were summoned to Delhi by their wiser ‘seniors’ to explain the party’s collapse. The boot was on the other foot: In all fairness, the state leaders should have asked their supposedly ‘wiser’ leaders for an explanation instead!
Party insiders said that state leaders were told to concentrate on organisation building and prepare for the next round of civic elections to over 100 bodies all over Bengal in the weeks ahead.
It was reassuring to see that the irrepressible Ghosh had lost none of his old verve: his take on the present situation was, as quoted by the media: The BJP will do far better in the coming round of statewide civic polls, as its support was mainly in the districts. As for Kolkata, the BJP was never strong here, either in terms of organisation or public support.
Most observers would agree. In any case, at 9 per cent its vote share is currently so far down that it is not really indicative of the party’s actual following or clout in Bengal even in these tough times. ‘There can be no denying the BJP’s performance graph cannot avoid going upwards starting from such a low base reference point!’, says one analyst. (IPA Service)