So Mukul Roy left. Many others are looking to leave. Mamata Banerjee is on a rampage. After the 2019 jolt and her apparent weakness till 2021, she is solidifying her power again. Or at least it looks that way to a lot of people. You can find the naysayers everywhere, shaking their heads. Who will vote for the BJP again?
Calm down please and stop worrying. Let me tell you who will vote for BJP. The voters, who else?
After the peak optimism of the 2019-21 period, the last 2 months might feel like a letdown. In those two years, the BJP ranks were swelling every day. Every TMC MLA who had some reason to be unhappy with Mamata Banerjee walked in through the BJP’s open door. After all, there was a buzz about BJP in every street corner of Bengal.
Suddenly, the BJP offices look deserted and the silence hangs heavy. Those who came in are looking to leave. They are calling desperately on Mamata Banerjee, begging for terms of surrender. Is it all over?
Of course not. Because the state election is five years away. There is no better time for a churn. How could there not be a churn after such a big defeat? If anything, this churn is a sign that the party is still alive and kicking. If you look at the CPM or Congress in Bengal, you will see that they are going about with business as usual. Because they have ceased to exist.
I have always argued that a very successful paradigm for understanding political parties is to think of them as corporations. Imagine you work for a firm that is going up against another big firm for a very lucrative contract. You and your colleagues work long shifts, slog through nights and weekends to make it happen. But, the contract goes to the other firm.
What do you think happens next? You are severely disappointed, yes. But beyond that, what else? You grumble, you complain, you make excuses. You point fingers at the team leader. If you are the team leader, people point fingers at you. What if you had listened to this or that suggestion instead of dissing it? Someone says that appointing this or that person to a key position was a mistake. Some get up and are ready to leave the firm altogether, fancying a better future with the bigger firm. All normal human reactions.
That’s what is playing out in the Bengal BJP right now. There isn’t another big test until 2024 at the very least.
The 18 seat haul in 2019 was unexpected. Following this, the BJP thought it could storm in and sweep Bengal. It turns out the job is much more difficult than they thought. That’s okay. They have to put together a better, more cohesive strategy for next time. In fact, if there was no churn, no restructuring, they would be guaranteed to see the same result the next time.
So when the BJP ranks in Bengal were swelling 6 months ago, it may have felt like good news. But turns out it really was not. Because that strategy apparently does not work in Bengal. So now the BJP has learned its lesson, understood the real nature of the task and how difficult it is. Those who don’t have the stomach for the fight are going to leave. Would you rather have them stay and repeat the same failed old strategy?
This is by no means a blanket attack on those who have shifted parties. For that matter, voters change their preferences all the time. We never hold that against them. In fact, it’s what makes democracy work. Every voter who goes to the booth is solving a complex optimization problem in their head. Do I hate that party more than I like this one? I may like this party but it seems this party does not have a real chance of winning. So why not shift the vote to one that does? Those who moved parties are working through something very similar. They will each weigh their options and decide.
After a tense two years, the TMC is enjoying a great moment in the sun. Everyone wants to join them, which apparently proves that they are all powerful. But aren’t they falling for the same self deception that screwed over the BJP so royally in Bengal? Candidates don’t matter so much in Bengal, party affiliations do. The TMC proved this beyond all possible doubt in 2021. Then, why is it a big deal if some free floaters, who had migrated to BJP, float back to TMC ranks? At best they are taking with them their own vote; maybe also the votes of their spouses and a few close relatives.
Every party goes through a period of self-doubt, uncertainty and humiliation after losing an election. It happens only to those parties which have skin in the game. If you remember 2009, the BJP went through a period when it looked like the party had lost its way. It is from this churn, the samudra manthan if you will, that a new leader and a new strategy emerges. Some time in mid-2010, I remember P Chidambaram arrogantly said that the BJP would never come back to power again. Man, he had no idea…