To be honest, the BJP did very well in West Bengal . Up from 3 seats to 77 in a gap of five years is no mean achievement by any standard. So why is Modi, Shah, Nadda and Vijayvargia (the Big Four) gone quiet after Mamata’s landslide win (213 of 294) !
Parties put up a brave face after they fail to live up to their boast. BJP’s problem in West Bengal is their bombast was too big to be true. Electoral fortunes don’t exactly skyrocket the way Jay Shah’s or Gautam Adani’s corporate fortunes can – from a turnover of two dozen crores to 3000 crore plus in 3 years.
So for Amit Shah to claim ‘ab ki bar, 200 par’ was a bridge too far. Bengal taught Modi-Shah’s BJP one cardinal lesson – a smart politically conscious electorate will not buy lies despite the best possible Goebellian packaging.
Bengal has only once in independent India not got the government it did not want – the murderous S.S Ray in 1972 when even the redoubtable Jyoti Basu lost by 40,000 votes.
The Left won not by ‘scientific rigging’ as alleged by its detractors but because it was seen as delivering in areas like land reforms. Mamata also won handsomely because she has delivered in the social sector by following the Left model of ‘small favours.’ The day she turns unpopular and Bengal has an alternative, she will be history.
BJP failed to cross double digits, as Prashant Kishore had predicted, because it wrongly believed Mamata is totally unpopular and it failed to project itself as a viable alternative.
The shock of defeat has silenced the BIG Four of the Bengal campaign. It is just left to Governor Jagdeep Dhankar and CBI to keep up the pressure on Mamata. But this will also backfire miserably.
Trouble is Delhi never understood Bengal. From CR Das to Subhas Bose to Sarat Bose ( in 1946-47) to Ajoy Mukherji and Pranab Mukherjee, Congress stalwarts revolted against the High Command culture and broke away to form their own parties.
Mamata, the latest in this line, is the most successful. She destroyed the Congress in 1990s, humbled the Left in 2011 and stopped the BJP’s furious charge in 2011 with a ferocious counter attack. You may fault her for many shortcomings but courage and energy are not among them.
At 65, she does a punishing 90 min treadmill half run almost every day and when she dares Modi to a 20 km padyatra on foot, not on the footboard of a Scorpio, the PM would be sensible to avoid the challenge.
Yashwant Sinha told some senior journalists that during the Kandahar Indian Airlines plane hijack, she as a minister offered herself as a hostage when the Pakistani terrorists wanted a minister if they had to let off all passengers.
Vajpayee, who was personally fond of Mamata, stopped her , says Sinha. Modi’s image of a tough brave macho guy is a publicity product — he never flies in a fighter aircraft as Rajnath Singh, George Fernandes, even Pratibha Patil has done.
In 2013, during the Uttarkhand deluge, Modi’s PR team he rescued 15,000 Gujarati tourists in a day using 80 Innovas. His lie was exposed and questions were raised about him selectively rescuing Gujarati tourists while projecting himself as India’s PM.
But a nation used to Bollywood believed the greatest political spinner and let him off even after the pains of demonetisation, sudden Covid lockdown.
But what works in rest of India does not work in Bengal, where people are programmed by upbringing to question – a tradition started by Raja Rammohan Roy’s eternal ‘kintu’.
Bengali films and theatre, like their politicians, focus on real life, not make-believe. And leaders and passionate about what they believe in. Bengal has never had a Shiv Sena type parochial nativist party, let alone a Northeast type separatist rebel group. But its politics and culture have thrived on powerful sense of exceptionalism.
Now the BJP Bengal unit is in ferment — with many blasting the Delhi bosses for not projecting a big enough local face, for failing to understand local milieu.
Former Tripura-Meghalaya Governor Tathagata Roy has hit out at BJP’s state minders for “needlessly inducting Trinamul defectors who are now starting to return back” to CM Mamata Banerjee’s fold.
The fusilade by the former BJP state secretary and national executive, following on his previous critique of the party leadership’s “neglect of tested old party workers”, points to much discontent brewing in the Bengal saffron camp.
“They came with a purpose but what purpose their induction served our party, excepting compromising our discipline and focus. How could we attack Mamata when we had all her corrupt leaders flocking to us,” Roy told mediapersons.
Senior Bengal BJP leaders like general secretary Sayantan Basu had stiffly protested when a proposal to induct Asansol Trinamool leader Jiten Tiwari was mooted. But Home Minister Amit Shah shut them and forced them to retract public statements. Tiwari joined BJP.
Tathagata Roy said BJP national level minders like Kailash Vijayvargia had “completely misread the mood in Bengal.”
“How can you expect to sell defectors to a politically conscious electorate like Bengal. You needed fresh new promising faces and trusted old leaders to make an impact but they went to battle with discredited old faces,” Roy said.
After former TMC MLA Sonali Guha, who joined the BJP, expressed her desire to return to the party, two more leaders have sought West Bengal Chief Minister’s Mamata Banerjee’s “forgiveness” and appealed to her to take them back.
Malda Zila Parishad member Sarala Murmu said that she has realised her “mistake” while North Dinajpur MLA Amol Acharya said that he is leaving BJP because of recent harassment of TMC leaders by CBI.
“It was a mistake for me to join BJP. Now when the CM has appealed to defectors to return, I want to come back,” Sarla Murmu reportedly said.
“It is so annoying to see this reverse flow. All defectors except Suvendu Adhikari lost and all the tinsel town figures too.. The likes of Vijayvargia must explain why these worthless chatacters were given BJP tickets,” Roy said.
The BJP West Bengal now has three clear factions – the old guard led by Roy, the Trinamul defectors led by Mukul Roy and the official faction led by state president Dilip Ghosh.
“Bickering between them has peaked after the Mamata landslide. Without a strong local Bengali leader, the state unit of BJP will fall apart,” said analyst Sukhoranjan Dasgupta.
The Bengal verdict is a rejection of the BJP and what it came to represent – rather than an endorsement of Mamata and her party. She better gets to deliver on the big questions of industry, investment, employment and corruption – or else the inevitable awaits her.