Numbers don’t lie, politicians do. More so, when stakes are high. And in West Bengal, stakes are dangerously high for both ruling TMC and opponent BJP. Since the countdown has begun for the assembly polls in the state, and a new govt is expected by May 2021, the ball is in people’s court now, who may exercise their franchise for a change of guard paving the way for a BJP govt or vote the TMC back to power expressing their faith in the Mamata govt.
Ironically, no political party knows which way the wind is blowing. Thanks to the shrill cacophony of poll campaigning set in months ahead of the elections – actually it never ceased to exist in West Bengal since 2016 assembly polls.
The BJP has turned the upcoming elections into a prestige battle, and the TMC is fighting tooth and nail to protect its lone bastion. Something Mamata Banerjee snatched from the CPM after years of struggle, snapping ties with the Congress, building a cadre base for herself from scratch, exploiting the same old political tools of the left party.
Now, an assertive BJP has taken a leaf out of Didi’s book, threatening to give her a taste of her own medicine in the forthcoming elections.
As always, numbers are crucial in this battle also. Not just for the political pundits to analyse the ground situation and gauge the prospects of contenders, but also for the political parties to use them in their favour, setting the tone and tenor of election campaigning, swaying the mood of the voters to their advantage.
So, around five months ahead of the polls in West Bengal, what are the numbers telling us? Do they hold the key to the knowledge of the outcome? At least a credible trend to speak? Let’s try and figure out.
First, the numbers that brought Mamata Banerjee at the helm of the state for the second consecutive time in 2016. Out of 294 assembly seats which went to polls, the TMC bagged 211, Congress 44, CPM 26 and the BJP was a distant fourth with only three seats in its account (though it gained vote shares by 6.10%).
The West Bengal voters had given a resounding mandate to the Trinamool Congress, delivering 27 more seats to the party in the second term in 2016.
While the Congress still had some standing in the state (with the loss of only two seats and gain of 3.16% vote shares), the CPM suffered a massive loss of 14 seats and 10.35% vote shares. The marginal vote share gain apart, the results were a jolt to the BJP as well.
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Buoyant with the party’s comeback at the centre in 2014 after a hiatus of 10 years, hoping to ride on the Modi wave, the BJP campaigned in the 2016 West Bengal assembly polls with all its might. The pitch was no less bitter with both TMC and BJP unleashing choicest of barbs against each other.
Though it hardly made any palpable difference, since, as it turned out, in glaring similarity to 2014, there was no Modi wave in the state. The party’s tally improved by just one seat in 2016 assembly elections as compared to two Lok Sabha seats two years ago.
The crux of the matter was that the people of West Bengal didn’t evince great enthusiasm for the BJP in both Lok Sabha and assembly elections in 2014 and 2016 respectively.
What is interesting that the saffron party didn’t take it to heart, and rose to the challenge. The BJP kept at increasing its cadre base in the state and refurbished the party bringing the prominent faces to its fold. Also, the saffron party effected a tried and tested formula making dents in the ruling TMC and deployed central leaders to facilitate everything to raise its prospects for the next fight.
And the efforts paid off in 2019 general elections. When the BJP rose from 2 to 18 seats, securing a substantial vote share of 42.86%. This time the TMC lost 12 parliamentary seats in the state, even though it stayed at the top with 22 seats in its bag. The Congress was down from 4 to 2 seats, and the CPM lost the two seats it had.
Around two years later, hopes soar high in the BJP, that its performance in the last Lok Sabha elections will act as a springboard to gain power in West Bengal. And the expectations are not unfounded in the backdrop of BJP’s recent show in various polls across the country.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah claimed at his rally in Bengal’s Midnapore on Saturday that his party would form the next govt in the state winning 200 out of 294 assembly seats. In a big jolt to the Trinamool Congress, Shah inducted Mamata Banerjee’s key aide and her Nandigram lieutenant Suvendu Adhikari into the BJP. A total of 10 MLAs, six from the TMC and four others from the Congress and CPM switched sides at a public event.
Even though Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her party leaders have labelled deserters like Suvendu Adhikari and others as opportunists and cowards declaring the TMC free of virus, the nervousness in the party is strikingly obvious. Because numbers always matter, and losing confidants who helped Didi build the party over the years is not easy for her to bear.
Nevertheless, despite all claims and counterclaims, the war is not yet over. Politics is an unpredictable game. And the mood of the people most difficult to predict.