The counting of votes in the Assembly Elections across five states are currently underway. The Left Front is set to retain power in Kerala, it’s a tight contest in Tamil Nadu but DMK appears to be heading towards a comfortable victory and the BJP alliance in Puducherry looks set to win Puducherry. But it is West Bengal and Assam that we will be focusing on here.
Assam and West Bengal are two states where minority vote-share impacts BJP’s chances of victory majorly. In Assam, the percentage of minority vote share is actually greater than in West Bengal. And yet, it is in Assam that BJP has managed to secure a comfortable victory while facing a rout in West Bengal.
According to the official website of the Election Commission of India (ECI), the Trinamool Congress is leading in 201 seats while the BJP only in 78 (as of 1.40 p.m.). The corresponding vote-shares are 48.55% for the TMC and 37.40% for the BJP.
The BJP might seek to take some consolation from the fact that it is set to see an exponential increase in its seat share these elections but there is really no way to spin this. The saffron vote-share has actually gone down from the 2019 General Elections, where the BJP managed to secure over 40% of the votes.
The answer is clear, the kind of Hindu consolidation that was observed in 2019 just did not occur in 2021 in favour of the BJP. A significant enough section of its Hindu votes went over to the TMC instead.
The questions that need to be answered is why did it happen and the underlying factors behind it. And for that, the BJP needs to look at what it did right in Assam. In Assam, the BJP’s strategy was consolidation of Hindu votes without a hyper focus on individual group identities in its narrative.
It was the polar opposite in West Bengal with the party focusing on the Matua community and the Mahisya community greatly. The result was that Hindu consolidation did not happen on the ground and the hyper focus on these identities did not pay off in the polls.
Mamata Banerjee appears to be sweeping Matua and Mahisya dominated constituencies as well. It is true that the concerns of individual identities need to be address to secure elections but in West Bengal, there was a hyper focus on such identities without an overarching Hindu centric narrative.
In Assam, leaders made no qualms about banking on Hindu consolidation to win elections. A great deal was focused on the fact that the anti-CAA sentiment in Upper Assam was going to cost BJP severely. But it did not.
Because the narrative was that differences between Assamese Hindus and Bengali Hindus could be sorted by political arrangement between the two, which was not possible with the growing Muslim community in the state.
The fact of the matter is that the BJP did not go hard enough on Hindu consolidation in Bengal. It is also unclear as of now the extent to which not implementing the CAA affected the election outcomes in the state.
There will be those sympathizers of the party who will blame the voters of Bengal for the results. But such conversations are futile. In a democracy, not a single vote is owed to any political party. Every political party must earn its vote.
A significant share of people (around 3-4%) who voted for the BJP in 2019 voted for Mamata Banerjee this time around. Why was it the case? That is for the parties to analyse the results and find out but it’s pointless to blame voters for the same.
In 2019, the vote in Bengal was polarised along religious lines and in 2021 it was not. As a consequence, BJP lost massively in 2021 and even had their strongholds breached. In Assam, both in 2019 and 2021, the vote was polarised along religious lines and hence, the party won.
Some will argue that it was the Lok Sabha elections in 2019 where Prime Minister Modi himself was on the ballot and this time around, it is the Assembly Elections. But the fact remains that many issues in these two states that were relevant in 2019 are relevant this time around as well.
The CAA, illegal immigration and the influence of minority vote-share were equally significant now as they were in 2019. Going forward, the path forward for the BJP is clear. Instead of a hyper focus on individual identities, the part must tread the path of unabashed Hindu vote consolidation.
There is also the case that the BJP did not have strong local leaders in West Bengal. But indeed, Dilip Ghosh and Suvendu Adhikari are extremely popular. And yet, the BJP has lost massively in these constituencies as well. The party surely has to spend significant time on a great deal of introspection on the setback, which it undoubtedly is.