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Wednesday, June 26, 2024

BJP must learn from West Bengal Election


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Let’s agree, state elections are fought on local issues and often not aligned to the national agenda. Therefore, the outcome of a particular state election can seldom be the sole basis for predicting the next Lok Sabha result. Many analysts prefer to do such armchair jobs and often gullible readers and viewers get unduly carried away. Hence, not winning Bengal is a referendum against Modi is a sheer overstatement. So is the case with Congress as well. Just because it scored a big zero, does not automatically rule out it’s a prospect in coming polls. Let’s acknowledge it’s a dynamic phenomenon hence nothing holds for perpetuity.

Specific to Bengal, it’s a classic case of contrarian politics being practiced meaning not aligning to the central ruling has always been the pattern since Siddhartha Shankar Ray demitted the iconic Writers Building in the late 70s. It was then communists took charge of the state and not much relevant to dwell upon more in the current context except the fact Mamata Didi as a fiery activist was born out of anti-communist ideological agenda with a very different image, to begin with. Notably, she was a hero to many including many of her current rivals even at the national level, as a recognition of her alternative value propositions against the governance failure during the left regime.  Further so many first to her credit including the giant killer tag she got when she convincingly defeated comrade Somnath Chaterjee in the prestigious Jadav Pur LS constituency. She is also the first-ever woman minister in charge of Railways and the first lady to be the CM of Bengal. Without an iota of doubt, she consolidated on the lapses during the left rule and constructed TMC by carving out a faction from Congress. Such instances are not new and even leaders like Pranab Mukherjee & P Chidambaram experimented with such political stunt unsuccessfully though. She promised to make a difference when she started off but with or without intent, she could only offer a governance model quite akin to that of her predecessors. In fact, some mourn believing she is worse. Let alone restoring the lost glory of Bengal, she rather relied on nurturing a political landscape characterized by malpractices and violence wherever there was even the slightest opportunity. There was a concerted systematic effort to play a negative politics by demonizing union government come what may and more importantly, she takes pride in trumpeting with age-old congress trick of selective appeasement giving a deaf ear to the criticisms.

Naturally, people with different political affiliations and ideological convictions tend to have diverse preferences. This result is no exception and as such might have brought cheer and disappointment accordingly. And be that as it may since that’s the ideal spirit to celebrate democracy.

Considering the political capital BJP invested in this season of the poll, which is unprecedented and part of its Purvoday strategy, forming a government of its own in Bengal was critical in achieving that aspiration. Though the verdict may not have contributed to the WAO factor certainly it’s a big booster for further expansion. Coming to BJP and PM Modi, it would be naive to say they went to fight this election without firm strategies. It’s a step-change from 3 to 77 by any measuring rod.

However, the way it unfolded on judgment day is far away from the expectation. Many hold the pandemic responsible and rightly so because, after the 4th phase of the election, BJP took a conscious decision to slow down given the downside attached to the current overshadowing crisis. Political critics would safely term it as a textbook case of complacency in the sense BJP would have drawn comfort from the fact that the rally and swing are in its favor so it’s only a matter of time to form its first government. But things moved dramatically differently when TMC continued to campaign aggressively till the end and that certainly gave an edge to it because let’s not forget ordinary voters get a lot of inspiration from the political rallies held just ahead of the elections.

We are not venturing into the complex technical aspects such as a systematic change in demography, the role of women voters, and most importantly the impact of a fatal cocktail of nasty caste politics prevailing in the state.

All said and done, it’s a missed opportunity for BJP and it could have secured the magic number had it connected a little more to the pulse of the ground in terms of awakening them with the grave danger, the state is slipping into from a pure-play of national security and harping on the dilapidated economic health of the state. The ruling dispensation in the state had no road map to reinstate the fortune once it enjoyed. Besides, the Bengali Bhadraloks largely concentrated in the presidency region should have been taken into confidence as a smart winning measure in BJP’s armory. One other important aspect, out of 148 candidates BJP fielded after they switched from TMC, only 6 of them won. Though they are equated with traitors and Mirzafaars by their original mentor, the lesson for BJP could be to take a calibrated step on such selection in the future. Impulsiveness can barely be the criteria.

With the verdict is out giving her, the mandate and she deserves complements for not letting anti-incumbency consuming her despite so many negative factors including the kind of horror unleashed across the state in the last several years taking a toll on innocent lives. The violence dimension which is almost synonymous with TMC and Left groups is back with full force even before the counting was concluded. A series of instances of post-poll carnage was already reported, and the targets are innocent voters who endorsed BJP by pledging their support.

It’s high time the state government takes control of the situation by dealing with miscreants with an iron hand to stop the bloodbath. Interestingly, in a reaction to the horrific post-poll violence, one of the most decorated General (retired) of the Indian Army has suggested the only response to the violence of this scale and shape is Article 356 of course for which there is a need for political guts, he feels. Even internal security experts are strongly advocating for responding to such heinous crimes with a hammer. In my view, President Rule may be the last option in the to-do list of the Union government, instead, it can always persuade the state government to behave as per the constitutional scheme of working. Never, those who extended their support to BJP can be left helpless in the face of terrors perpetrated as part of political vendetta in connivance with some members of the ruling party in the state.

Numerous disturbing videos in the public domain present a very gory picture of the collapsed law order situation. For BJP to remain credible amongst its constituents and sympathizers, it must act and appear to act with responsibility it owes to its support base. To conclude just because the election process got over, BJP can’t leave the ground for anarchy to creep in where antisocial elements run the show. Also, BJP would find it impossible to justify its strategy to sit on Dharna when some women who supported it are getting gang-raped and men are mercilessly lynched by a violent mob just because they supported a wrong party as per these hooligans.

All said and done, it’s still a spectacular show by BJP in terms of entering the hinterlands and defeating Didi in her home turf. But not many BJP sympathizers are happy about the fact that even after 7 years, PM Modi remains the only vote catcher. Nothing wrong with that but on an occasion like this, sadly there is no insurance available against the top mascot which in turn leads to collateral credibility damage. Often this has a domino effect because in our country every 6 months we have one election or the other. It’s high time BJP comes up with more crowd pullers who can convert to votes for ensuring victory. It’s too risky in its present fashion.

In the context of other polling states, BJP has a sound reason for feeling good. Assam the most vulnerable state after J&K from a pure-play of national security, is retained. Secondly, Pondicherry coming to its fold marks the second southern state after Karnataka. Third, Kerala, in anyways, did not have enough currency to compete with communists. But what is tragic, the state rejected the metro man to endorse gold smuggling. Off late, the state is also notoriously known for providing a breeding ground for terrorist recruitment which needs special attention to safeguard our sovereignty. Fourth, in Tamil Nadu, some attribute to BJP AIDMAK alliance as the major factor for DMK win may not be a correct assumption rather the lack of clarity in leadership within AIDMK is the reason.

The meat of the matter, BJP must prepare for the next election from now by learning from the lapses and findings during the post-fact introspection exercise.

Congratulations to the winners and better luck to the challengers.

Author- Sabyasachee Dash

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