Fifteen Trinamool MLAs who joined the BJP in the presence of Union home minister Amit Shah in the run-up to the assembly elections could not change its fortunes as the Trinamool swept districts such as Paschim Bardhaman, Hooghly, Howrah and Diamond Harbour, which witnessed several defections.
According to preliminary analysis, voters from poor backgrounds, particularly women backed the Trinamool as it succeeded in meeting their needs and made the campaign all about defeating the ‘outsider’. Trinamool’s election slogan asked voters to protect ‘daughter of Bengal’ from the invading forces. It was amplified by the party’s song, ‘khela hobey’ that became a crucial part of its canvassing. Led by Banerjee who campaigned throughout in her wheelchair saw Trinamool retain strongholds in South Bengal, making dents in SC/ST voters in Junglemahal and North and South 24 Parganas which voted overwhelmingly for it.
The party fielded MPs Babul Supriyo, Locket Chatterjee, Nisith Pramanik, Jagannath Sarkar and Swapan Dasgupta but only Pramanik and Sarkar could win. High profile candidates such as Rajib Banerjee, Bishali Dalmiya, Jitender Tiwari, Rathin Chakraborty, Prabir Ghoshal and others were defeated too. Actors such as Yashraj Dasgupta, Payel Sarkar, Srabnanti Chatterjee and Rudraneil Ghosh also failed to make a mark.
Districts such as Malda, Murshidabad, Purba Bardhaman, Kolkata and Birbhum which went to polls after Covid-19 cases started surging also largely went the Trinamool way. While the Muslim vote is believed to have stood solidly behind Trinamool, even Hindi speakers in and around Kolkata and districts such as Paschim Bardhaman did not vote for BJP. Disagreements and lack of coordination between old and new BJP workers, increasing and unfiltered defections from Trinamool and interference from too many leaders from other states also led to BJP’s campaign losing track. “A simple worker like Suman Kanjilal could win in Alipurduar despite late announcement, but MPs failed to win, so did celebrities. The focus should have been on promoting our workers, not defectors,” said a party leader.
BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya said his party would introspect. It was possible that because of Covid-19, many BJP core voters, particularly from the middle class, did not vote he said. Losses for BJP were particularly sharper in districts that went to vote after the fifth phase, he said.
The BJP’s aggressive bid for Bengal began in 2017 when Shah conducted monthly meetings and appointed key people to manage the party’s affairs in the state. The BJP set itself a target of winning 200-plus seats, after winning 3 last time. While Shah was the chief strategist, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed over a dozen rallies and over nine ministers canvassed.
Political analyst Kapil Chowdhury said BJP lacked a strong local face to match Banerjee. “The BJP could not channelise sentiment of anger. Issues such as fuel price hike were important, but BJP did not address the issue. Moreover, the culture of moving around in huge cars and staying in lavish hotels is alien to people of Bengal. Trinamool also made many changes to its local leadership that people accepted.” People of Bengal were sceptical of anything that threatened their cultural supremacy. BJP’s efforts to appropriate the state’s icons might have rubbed some people the wrong way, he said.
Banerjee’s ‘Duare Sarkar’ implemented in December to provide government services and social welfare schemes benefitted many across the rural and urban belts, offering security of Swasthya Sathi health card, Kanyashree and other schemes. It was like a last-minute healing balm to address grievances of the people. People largely benefitted from it and Banerjee promised ration at the doorstep if voted to power. A wheelchair-bound Banerjee also triggered a sense of sympathy among the rural population.