An “aggressive” campaign against a popular local leader that may have backfired, the primacy of local identities and deepening anxieties over the rising Covid curve and its attendant grief and loss: these are among the factors senior BJP leaders are listing as they review their performance in the assembly elections the day after the verdict.
In the results announced Sunday, the party increased its tally from three to 77 in West Bengal but fell far short of its poll mission of wresting the state from the TMC. While the party retained Assam and picked up four seats in Tamil Nadu, it suffered a setback in Kerala where it drew a blank after having opened its account for the first time with a seat four years ago.
The assessment also points to criticism in the media and public space over the worsening Covid situation as “a major reason” for the poor performance in the last three phases of polls in West Bengal. In Kerala, party leaders said, the aggressive campaign coupled with the state organisation’s failure to act as a cohesive unit led to the wipeout.
In West Bengal, the party underlined its sharp surge as the strongest takeaway rather than the disappointment of a reduced vote share compared to 2019.
“We have not lost anything. We have won,” BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, who has been the party’s in-charge in West Bengal since 2015, told The Indian Express. “Today, in a state where politics was once all about the Left ideology, the BJP has come up as the single credible opposition, removing the Left and the Congress from the scene. It’s an achievement, and the party considers it as a gain.”
Asked about its slide since 2019, Vijayvargiya listed three reasons. “First of all, Congress and the Left gave up their space completely to the TMC. Their votes were transferred to the TMC to defeat the BJP. Secondly, the emotional card that Mamata Banerjee played worked very well. From ‘Didi’ in the last elections, she has become ‘Bengal ki Beti’ and it worked in TMC’s favour,” Vijayvargiya admitted.
According to Vijayvargiya, “Covid played a villain role”. “In the last three phases, our performance was not at all good. We could hardly get any seats,” he said.
Sources in the BJP admitted that the “aggression” — the barbs and the mocking by Prime Minister Narendra Modi — against Banerjee did not resonate with the fence-sitters, especially women. “People found it offensive to Didi… Mamata’s emotional card, her injured leg and our party’s vicious attack mobilised sympathy for her, and the voters wanted to prove us wrong,” said a leader who was part of the campaign.
In Kerala, the “general aggression” in the campaign was rejected by voters, leaders said. At least three leaders also told The Indian Express that the absence of a united party unit caused its decimation in the state.
As the results became clear, there was a flurry of WhatsApp messages in internal groups blaming the state leadership, its strategies and even fund distribution for candidates for the failure.
“This outcome indicates that the people of Kerala have not accepted the state leadership. The state president (K Surendran, who lost both the constituencies he contested from) had let the minorities, Christians and Muslims, consolidate against the BJP by promising a law against love jihad and by favouring some Christian sects. This groupism, fanned by Surendran, worked against the party,” read one message.
According to a senior state leader, the decision to bring in aggressive Hindutva faces like Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath also affected the party’s prospects. “Yogiji’s presence in Kerala did not go down well with the minorities. In constituencies where Christians could stand with the BJP, things went haywire after his visit. In a state like Kerala, where you cannot win without the backing of at least one minority community, the BJP should have avoided such an aggressive campaign,” the leader said.
However, Union MoS and senior Kerala leader V Muraleedharan maintained that the state followed the national trend of voting for the incumbent government. “The Covid situation seems to have scared people and generally favoured continuity in power,” he said.
Rejecting charges of groupism or discrimination in distribution of resources, Muraleedharan said the “Muslim consolidation in favour of the CPI(M) and the LDF” cost the BJP. The Union Minister ruled out any changes in the state leadership but admitted that the party’s support base has eroded in some key constituencies. “It’s a matter of concern,” he said.