West Bengal polls: BJP’s potential defection formula fails
The expansion of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) beyond the hearts of Hindi after its victory in the 2014 elections in Lok Sabha, and its electoral victories in the assembly polls in the most unlikely places, has been widely discussed and analyzed by political experts in recent years. years. While experts may differ on a few points, few commentators or analysts will dispute the argument that engineering defections has been a key part of Saffron Party’s expansion plans. The BJP has been ruthlessly practical and has not shied away from co-opting political heavyweights from rival camps. Many leaders who have built their political capital by taking a staunch anti-BJP stance are now party mascots in their respective states. Along with Himanta Biswa Sarma, Okram Ibobi Singh and Pema Khandu, the BJP has three CMs who cut their political teeth in Congress.
Over the years, the BJP has mastered, patented and used the engineering strategy of defections across the country. Building on the success of its strategy in various states, the BJP has invested heavily in turncoats in the high-stakes West Bengal assembly polls. In the months leading up to the elections, the BJP recruited several senior leaders from the All India Trinamool Congress (TMC), lawmakers and former close associates of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Amid much fanfare and media attention, some of the TMC liners had joined the party after being flown to New Delhi on chartered flights.
A quick glance at the election results by constituency reveals that the turncoats (those who challenged the 2016 polls on TMC, IPC, CPM, Congress tickets) lined up by the BJP in general, and TMC candidates who became BJP in particular fared badly. . Almost half of the returlers who contested the 2021 elections (32 out of 64) were from the BJP; only eight of them emerged victorious. The turners who left the TMC ship to join the BJP did the worst – four out of 18 BJP candidates could manage to win. On the contrary, the turncoats who contested on the TMC tickets – most of those candidates had gone to congressional or leftist TMC – did comparatively better, managing a strike rate of nearly 70%.
Table ‘A’ – Number of setbacks put in place by major parties / alliances in 2021 Bengal assembly polls.
(Note: the term turncoat implies candidates who contested the previous assembly election on another party’s ticket. BJP turncoats include candidates who contested the previous assembly poll on TMC tickets. , Congress, CPI, CPM.)
Table ‘B’ – Strike rate winning TMC and BJP turncoats in the 2021 Bengal assembly polls.
Bengal, never a happy hunting ground for the Turncoats
While the massive exodus of TMC leaders to the BJP was seen as a sign of the plunging prospects of the former and the rise of the latter on the political horizon of Bengal by leaders, supporters and even part of the BJP press , these assumptions likely ruled out the performance of returning candidates in previous assembly elections in Bengal. Between 2001 and 2016, in four assembly elections, 198 ghosts contested the assembly elections of various parties and only 67 of them managed to win. The strike rate of candidates who returned before 2021 in Assembly polls (held after the turn of the millennium) was 33%.
Several heavyweights bite the dust
In the months leading up to the Bengal elections, more than two dozen TMC lawmakers and several disgruntled party leaders had switched to the BJP. While the numbers clearly show that the turncoats that moved from Mamata’s party to the BJP performed dismally, a closer look at the results by riding does pose some surprises. Many high-level defectors who were to bring seats for the BJP in their districts or pockets of influence failed to even win their own seats.
Leading TMC renegades including former Minister of State Rajib Banerjee, former Singur MP Rabindranath Bhattacharya and former Bidhannagar Mayor Sabyasachi Dutta face defeats. While Suvendu Adhikari managed to defeat the CM in Nandigram, he was unable to deliver the Purba Medinipur neighborhood – considered a stronghold of the Adhikari family – for his new party. The TMC won nine of the 16 seats offered in the district.
A statistical analysis of the individual performance of BJP imports from TMC, their dismal strike rate or inability to win seats in their pockets of influence, does not fully assess the damage suffered by the BJP by its excessive dependence on the strategy of technical no-shows. Data from various pre-election polls and field reports by journalists had suggested an alarming level of anti-outgoing against the incumbent TMC government. By launching an aggressive pre-election defection campaign targeting senior TMC leaders and close associates of Mamata Banerjee, the BJP has set a personal goal. From being seen as a fanciful leader with a highly autocratic style of operation battling heavy opposition to office, Mamata was – as a result of the defection of the BJP – now seen as the proverbial “ underdog ” who was against the whole crowd. power of the central government, the colossal electoral machinery of the BJP and a host of TMC imports. Not the type to miss an opportunity, Mamata and the TMC cashed in, accusing the turners of being “traitors” or “back shots”.
The introduction of foreigners from the TMC and other parties also exacerbated the party’s internal conflict within the BJP of Bengal. Several BJP leaders and karyakartas were left in turmoil after the party rolled out the red carpet for ‘foreigners’ and offered them tickets. Grassroots discontent within the party was clearly visible throughout the election. At several seats, the party was even forced to change its candidates. While high-profile renegades like the Narada Sting and the Sarada scam blamed Suvendu Adhikari’s troika, Shovan Chatterjee and Mukul Roy were welcomed into key leadership positions, the BJP, who continued to promise. ”Asol Poriborton‘, ended up looking like a’ Trinamool B ‘team. The lack of local leadership and benches in the state has been poorly exposed.
The strategy of technical defections has arguably been one of the most powerful weapons in BJP’s arsenal of late. It allowed the party to win elections in states like Manipur, Tripura, etc. where he had virtually no field presence and helped him seize power through the backdoor in states like Goa, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. But the Bengal experience is a crude reminder for the BJP; a “one-size-fits-all” approach simply does not work in India’s diverse electoral landscape. What works in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat or Goa does not necessarily work in Bengal. To make matters worse for the BJP, there are murmurs of several TMC turncoats trying to return to their parent party. Will BJP have a bitter taste of its own medicine in Bengal? Only time will tell.
The author is a Bombay-based freelance writer and alumnus of St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. His interests range from politics, psephology and journalism to regional Indian cinema. He tweets @Omkarismunlimit