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For BJP, all eyes on Bengal and Assam, gains in south a bonus

So far, the BJP has succeeded in claiming an edge in the perception war by getting a number of popular TMC leaders, including MLAs, to defect. But party leaders admitted that the “battle is not yet won

Written by Liz Mathew | New Delhi |
Updated: February 27, 2021 3:09:59 am
BMC, shiv sena, BJP, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, corporation funds, BJP Maharashtra, mumbai news, indian expressBJP minority cell and Jain organisations in the state will hold a statewide protest on Wednesday over the abduction and killing of a businessman. (Representational)

FROM WEST BENGAL to Kerala, there is much at stake for the BJP in elections to the assemblies of four states and one UT announced Friday — the outcome is key for the ruling party at the Centre to chart the path ahead for its political and ideological agenda.
Across the next two months, a victory in West Bengal could be a major uptick for the party, which also needs to retain power in Assam to keep its grip on the Northeast. And, any gains in the southern states would be a bonus since it does not have deep roots in the region.

At the same time, a win for Mamata Banerjee-led TMC in West Bengal and the DMK-led alliance in Tamil Nadu would witness an aggressive federal pushback that could slow down the BJP’s push. It could also set a tone for the next general election.

In Assam, which is considered key to its political and ideological push in the northeast, the party had promised to grant citizenship to Hindus who had migrated from Bangladesh with the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and identify “illegal Muslim migrants” with National Register of Citizens (NRC). But it is facing a dilemma as these issues have polarised its voters with the indigenous population and the Bengali Hindus on two sides.

Besides, the coming together of the Congress and the AIUDF has made the road bumpier. And, an intensifying internal strain could cause some trouble. While a clear win would leave the state leadership issue to the top brass at the national level, a split verdict would force it to rely on a leader like Himanta Biswa Sarma who can bring in coalition partners.

In West Bengal, where former party president Amit Shah is directly managing the party’s strategy, the outstanding performance in the last Lok Sabha elections — 18 of 42 seats — has kept the party upbeat. But the religious demography makes its task tougher. With the Muslim population at almost 30 per cent, the party is relying heavily on consolidation of Hindu votes.

“We are going to improve our Lok Sabha performance. If the elections are held free and fair, the BJP would come to power with two-thirds majority,” BJP general secretary in-charge of West Bengal, Kailash Vijayvargiya, said.

So far, the BJP has succeeded in claiming an edge in the perception war by getting a number of popular TMC leaders, including MLAs, to defect. But party leaders admitted that the “battle is not yet won”. Like in Assam, the NRC and the CAA are tricky issues. Party leaders are facing criticism for not implementing the CAA that could have given citizenship to a number of Hindus in various pockets.

“Among these states, Tamil Nadu is the toughest nut to crack. Unlike in Kerala, the party has more at stake as it is important for us to see that the NDA remains linked to power in the state, not just for our southern ambitions but also for maintaining a national character,” said a BJP leader. Despite setbacks in initial moves to win over smaller communities, the BJP’s focus is on getting rid of its image as a ‘North Indian party’.

In Kerala, the party’s hopes of bringing together Nairs and Ezhavas in the Hindu community, and the Christians, seem to be fading with its state leadership failing to take constructive steps. The BJP may have to be satisfied with setting up triangular fights with the CPI(M)-led LDF and Congress-led UDF in a few constituencies.

But if the party focuses on its “Congress-mukt Bharat” agenda, it could potentially damage Congress prospects. “Like in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, Puducherry also, whatever we win is going to be an achievement. We do not have much stake in these states, so we have nothing to lose,” said a senior party leader.

The BJP has one MLA in Kerala, three nominated MLAs in Puducherry and no presence in the Tamil Nadu Assembly.

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