Though Union home minister Amit Shah has drawn big crowds in his two visits to Mamata Banerjee’s stronghold in just 45 days yet there is no dearth of independent political analysts who see some similarities between West Bengal and Delhi.
While the Bharatiya Janata Party swept the Lok Sabha elections of 2014 and 2019 in Delhi, it was completely routed in the two Assembly polls held just nine months later on both the occasions. In Feb 2015 it could win only three seats while in Feb 2020 the saffron party slightly improved its tally to bag seven seats. The newly founded Aam Aadmi Party won 67 and 63 seats (out of total 70)respectively in both the Assembly elections though it failed to win any of the seven Lok Sabha seats.
This had happened notwithstanding the fact that in 2015 the BJP projected Kiran Bedi as its chief ministerial candidate. The saffron party threw everything into the electoral battle with Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself addressing several big public meetings. Dozens of Union ministers, scores of MPs and leaders from other states were pressed into service. But all went in vain.
Kiran Bedi, a retired IPS officer having worked in Delhi for so long, was a well known face. In comparison Arvind Kejriwal was not only much junior but somewhat new to the people of Delhi. Yet the newly founded Aam Aadmi Party won 67 out of 70 seats.
The AAP did so well again in 2020 notwithstanding the fact that Arvind Kejriwal lost friends like Yogendra Yadav, Prashant Bhushan, Ashutosh etc in-between the two Assembly polls.
In 2020 the BJP almost repeated the same strategy. It had an advantage this time as it tried its level best to cash in on the anti-CAA-cum-NRC movement. The communal polarization did not work though the saffron brigade left no stone unturned. The only difference this time was that it could not project anyone as the chief ministerial candidate. The Bhojpuri film personality Manoj Tiwari was no match to Kejriwal.
Similarly, in West Bengal the BJP might have done extremely well in 2019 Lok Sabha election winning 18 out of 42 seats. Its share of votes almost increased two and a half time from 2016 Assembly election. Chief minister Mamata Benerjee’s Trinamool Congress could win 22 seats.
The BJP is putting in everything to achieve the Mission-200. Amit Shah is giving too much time to the state notwithstanding the challenge the farmers are posing to the Narendra Modi government around Delhi. Ahead of the Assembly election Prime Minister Modi would himself launch a full-throated campaign in the state.
But the biggest disadvantage the BJP has in West Bengal is that there is absolutely no leader to the stature of Mamata Banerjee, who is no doubt facing the challenge of anti-incumbency. Neither state BJP chief Dilip Ghosh, nor the Union minster Babul Supriyo or former Union minister Mukul Roy, who was in the Trinamool Congress till 2017, is any match to Mamata.
The idea of poaching normally does not work. Save Suvendhu Adhikari almost all those who have joined the party recently have no such base of their own. Most of them are joining the BJP because they are fearing that the TMC would drop their names in the next election. They just want to win in the name of Narendra Modi now.
But the BJP can not take the risk of projecting Suvendhu as the chief ministerial face as the old guards would not like this to happen.
Besides, the BJP could do so well in Delhi in the Lok Sabha elections because it has a good past record. Delhi has always been a strong bastion of the BJP or Bharatiya Jana Sangh. Barring the 1984 Lok Sabha election in which the BJP drew blank the saffron party had always been performing well. Even today it controls the Delhi Municipal Corporation.
That is not the case of the BJP in West Bengal where its base is too shallow. The party is highly dependent on turncoats as it may not get suitable candidates to contest in all the 294 Assembly seats.
Mamata might have grown weak yet it would be pre-mature to come to the conclusion that she is on the way out. The way Jitendra Tiwari, the mayor of Asansol and a powerful MLA, left the party and within a day realized his mistake and returned to the TMC, is a pointer to the fact.
(Soroor Ahmed is a senior journalist based in Patna)