It is increasingly clear that the circumstances that produced a stunning victory in 2014 for the BJP — and Narendra Modi in particular — have largely been eroded. Delhi, Bihar and now elections in five states, barring Assam, are clear cases in point.
The RSS/BJP has, however, still claimed victory. Any discerning observer can see through the claim with a simple reading of the number of seats and vote shares of the BJP in these elections. The downslide from 2014 is stark. Even in Assam, the grandeur of victory would look far less impressive if the regional alliances that it struck with the AGP and the Bodo outfit are discounted.
That arrangement in Assam is dominated by the BJP. The vulnerabilities of the AGP and BPF are so obvious that the RSS/BJP did not have any problem in advertising this arrangement publicly. This is a pattern the RSS/BJP has enacted earlier with clinical finesse in Gujarat and Karnataka, subsequently devouring the regional outfits with which they had allied.
The process, however, has been much more complex in West Bengal. The strength of the RSS/BJP here is not yet substantial, its shrill claims following the 2014 Lok Sabha elections notwithstanding. The initial highlight of the run-up to 2014 was Modi’s “do haath mein do laddoo” imagery implying peaceful cohabitation of the BJP and TMC. But later, the ground swell for the Modi-BJP transformed this modesty to fake aggression. This had two advantages. This would embolden the BJP’s credibility as the opposition and allow the TMC to launch a counter aggression and, in the process, polarise votes on the lines of religious identity. With significant minority votes at stake, this was a clever ploy. The outcome saw the TMC making huge gains in the LS elections, and even the BJP winning a significant 17 per cent vote share and leading in 25 assembly segments.
Without this background, it will be difficult to read the recent assembly poll results in Bengal. This backdrop should be remembered alongwith the events that unfolded during the last two years. With the Modi government’s performance belying its tall promises and the TMC government’s large-scale corruption being referred to the “caged parrot”, the CBI, the ground was cleared for a quid-pro-quo. Therefore, the last two years witnessed a mellowed TMC offering “conditional” support to the BJP, particularly for the passage of legislation in the Rajya Sabha. With very little “movement” on the Sarada chit fund scam cases, the cosy arrangement became obvious.
But the “cessation of open hostility” was not considered to be electorally rewarding. Therefore, come election time, we saw a re-launch of an aggressive Modi poised to tear apart the West Bengal CM. Because, the arrangement, unlike Assam, had to be much more nuanced — an arrangement that would benefit the TMC disproportionately for now — but the BJP would also not be left empty-handed. The RSS was prepared to play the waiting game for its polarising agenda.
The election results in Bengal clearly bring out this sinister design. The BJP’s performance was more pronounced in areas where the TMC was on a weaker wicket. Thus, the BJP got 16 per cent votes in the eight districts of North Bengal to limit the gains of the secular opposition. Conversely, in South Bengal, where the TMC is more formidable, the BJP’s vote share came down to a mere 8 per cent. In South Bengal, the RSS/BJP’s game plan, in concert with the TMC, was to create an atmosphere of polarisation and wean away as much of the anti-incumbency vote from the secular opposition. The BJP won two seats in North Bengal and one in South Bengal. The voting figures clearly show that polarisation and a sharp drop of TMC votes in Kharagpur where the RSS-appointed BJP state president unseated a nine-time MLA was thanks to this “inexplicable” drop in TMC votes where it massively won the recently-held municipal election.
Similarly, in 112 seats, the BJP’s votes were more than the victory margins of the TMC candidates. Obviously, this is a significant factor in dressing up the “magnificent” victory. But beneath the veneer lies the truth. The TMC’s 2.45 crore votes are trailed closely by 2.13 crore of the secular opposition. The BJP’s lead in 25 assembly segments in 2014 has come down to just 3, and correspondingly the combined lead of the secular opposition has gone up from 53 to 77.
The victor in West Bengal knows that the victory is transient. It is achieved through political deceit and the opposition is breathing down its neck. Therefore, it has unleashed violence on the Left and the secular opposition, littering the West Bengal landscape with blood and intimidation.
For now, the BJP/RSS is content that the quid-pro-quo can proceed undisturbed. BJP president Amit Shah has admitted as much. A fresh round of polarisation is on the cards. RSS shakhas proliferate, sponsoring Saraswati Shishu Mandirs in tribal-inhabited rural Bengal. Meanwhile, the TMC’s pandering to minority communal outfits continues, with the newly appointed minister openly declaring his support for the accused in the Khagragarh blasts investigated by the NIA and found to have been masterminded by terrorists based in Bangladesh. The NIA, however, failed to unearth the “local connections”.
The “observers” rejoice at a second term for the “subaltern”. Communal polarisation is perhaps a dirty word, especially when it involves the ruling party at the state and the Centre acting in concert.
(This article first appeared in the print edition under the headline ‘A ruse to win’)