The West Bengal assembly elections will be held in eight phases spanning over a month. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has emerged as a potent force in the state and is threatening to dislodge the Trinamool Congress (TMC) government.
In 2011, the TMC used tricks from Left Front’s rulebook and ended its 34-year-rule.
Since then it has poached leaders, and opposition parties allege that the TMC has indulged in political violence and has rigged elections to its favour. In character, mannerism and style of governance, especially its economic policies, many look at the TMC as the new Left in Bengal.
However, this is not entirely true. Two-third of the TMC’s support base consists of erstwhile Congress voters while one-third are traditional Left voters, primarily poor, downtrodden, marginal farmers who deserted it after the Nandigram and Singur protests.
Interestingly, a majority of the Left voters have moved to the BJP.
In the 2016 state elections, one in four voters backed the Left. In the by-polls to the Kanthi Dakshin seat in 2017, the BJP’s vote share increased from 9 percent to 31 percent, while Left’s declined from 34 percent to 10 percent. From here on, the swap of the saffron and the red commenced (please see chart).
The 2018 panchayat elections were the bloodiest ever witnessed in the history of West Bengal. The TMC won one-third seats unopposed. The Left cadre and supporters faced the wrath of TMC workers, and they turned to the BJP, which was becoming a powerful party. The national party displaced the Left to come second behind the TMC.
For sympathisers of the Left, TMC leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is enemy number one, but many realised that the Left was in no position to take on the TMC. So these sympathisers didn’t waste time (or their vote) and turned to the BJP, which being in power at the Centre and many states, could challenge the Banerjee.
Left supporters have drifted towards the saffron party, despite their diametrically opposite ideologies. The red brigade’s organisational structure has been decimated and they have lost popularity with the masses.
Most of the Left’s support base, including the upper caste, the Dalits and the Adivasis, moved to the BJP over the years manifesting itself in the 2019 general elections.
‘Agey Ram, Porey Bam’ (First BJP, then Left) became a hit slogan then. In 2019 general elections, the BJP’s vote share increased to 41 percent, from 17 percent in 2014: the Left’s vote share declined from 30 percent to 7 percent. It is also said that many local Left leaders asked supporters to vote for the BJP to defeat the TMC.
The BJP performed well in northern and western parts of West Bengal, which are traditional Left strongholds.
The Left’s complacency while the RSS-BJP were focusing on the ground, its gradual disconnect with the youth and its aspirations, the lack of state level charismatic leaders after Jyoti Babu and Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, the lack of fresh faces and a dismal record of development hastened the exodus of its supporters.
The BJP has deftly crafted targeted messaging for different voting groups. For the youth it showcases its track record on employment and development in other states. To Matuas (Hindu refuges from Bangladesh) who were core vote bank of Left till 2011, it has promised permanent citizenship. To the bhadralok (upper caste), which enjoyed power during the Left regime, it provides a hope to make a comeback and take over the reins of the state government.
The BJP replacing the Left and becoming the principal opposition can also be ascribed to the failures of Banerjee’s administration in her second term and the TMC’s alleged violence against the Opposition.
Banerjee’s decimation of the Left as a political force has led to the BJP’s rise in the state and it donning the hat of the Left.
The Left’s decision to forge an alliance with the Congress, which has been its principal opponent, has also left a section of its supporters angry.
The BJP has appropriated the symbols and images of the Left in its campaign strategy to attract voters who are dissatisfied with the TMC government.A keen battle is on the cards, with initial polls suggesting the TMC marginally ahead.