Three seats and a vote share of 10% is the BJP’s best ever performance in an Assembly election in West Bengal. And yet, the party may look at this election as a lost opportunity, as it failed to build on the foundation it had laid in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, when it got 17% of the vote and led in 24 Assembly segments. (Figure 1)
Unlike 2014, when the party got relatively greater support among the middle class, there was no class pattern in the support for the BJP this time.
Its campaign focused on the Malda incident, alleged revelations in the Narada sting tapes, and progress in the Saradha scam probe. The party also publicised steps taken by the central government, such as the declassification of files related to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s mention of the Kolkata flyover collapse was a clear indication of the BJP’s focus on urban voters. Among urban respondents, an overwhelming 90% had heard of the Kolkata flyover collapse. Close to two-thirds of urban voters who had heard of this incident and wanted responsibility to be fixed for the tragedy, held the TMC and the construction company responsible. Despite this, the TMC remained way ahead even among urban voters (winning 49 out of the 64 urban seats), indicating that the flyover collapse did not end up determining their final choice.
Expectedly, the BJP performed relatively better in urban areas where it had a marginally higher vote share. The party secured 13% of the urban vote, 10% of the semi-urban vote and 9% of the vote in rural constituencies. (Table 1) Interestingly, while its rural vote share declined marginally as compared to the Lok Sabha election, it faced a heavy loss in urban areas. This could essentially be indicative of a shift of voters who had voted for the BJP to make Narendra Modi Prime Minister.
Even the Malda incident did not bring the kind of electoral gains that the BJP would have hoped for. Awareness about the violence was quite low — only around a fifth of the voters had heard about it.
The declassification of central government files related to Netaji, an old promise made by many BJP leaders, was fulfilled earlier this year — probably with an eye on the upcoming elections. But in terms of larger public awareness, this was almost irrelevant, as more than 6 out of 10 respondents were not even aware of this step. Even among those who knew about it, many considered it to be no more than a pre-election political stunt.
It is uncertain whether this was a result of poor communication by the party or overestimation of the potential of this decision to bring electoral gain.
Results from our survey indicate that the appraisal of central government schemes in the state is not as good as in some other states. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and accident insurance scheme have relatively high awareness, but the proportion of respondents who found central government schemes to be ineffective exceeded those who found them to be effective. A large chunk of voters could not form an opinion on them.
Though many in the BJP would like to see this performance as a glass half-full, in reality the BJP still remains a distant fourth in the state and needs to do a lot more before it can become a natural beneficiary of any anti-Mamata vote. The big question is whether the party can blur ideological lines in the future and attract Left voters dissatisfied with the TMC government.