In Charts: How Mamata Banerjee Scripted A Record Win In West BengalBloombergQuintOpinion
Mamata Banerjee has taken oath as Chief Minister of West Bengal for a third term after leading her party to a landslide victory in the assembly elections, results of which were declared on Sunday. While political pundits and exit polls were suggesting a close contest, the Trinamool chief proved everybody wrong by registering even a bigger victory than what she won in 2016.
This is the math behind Mamata Banjere’s big victory and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s loss of face.
BJP Saw 2019 Surge As Launchpad To Power
The BJP fancied its chances in 2021 after winning 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the 2019 general elections (up 16 from 2014). That 2019 election had reduced the Trinamool tally to 22 seats (-12), Congress to 2 seats (-2), and completely decimated the Left Front (-2). In 2019, a bulk of the support that backed the communist parties in previous elections moved to BJP. That had helped the BJP cross the magic 40% vote share, just 3% lower than the Trinamool. In the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP secured roughly 60% support from the Hindu community in a state where minorities account for 27% of the population.
Going into these 2021 assembly elections, the BJP pushed hard against the Trinamool on the narrative of ten years of local anti-incumbency, allegations of cut money, corruption during Amphan relief, charges of minority appeasement, and the exodus of key Mamata aides like Suvendu Adhikari (The only consolation for the BJP was Adhikari defeating Banerjee in Nandigram).
BJP needed to reach a 45% vote share (up 4% from 2019) to win this election. For that, it needed to (i) hold onto its 2019 general election vote share and (ii) make a dent amongst Hindu community supporters of the Trinamool Congress, especially those belonging to lower caste groups. The Left-Congress combine had bottomed out, in a sense, for BJP to make more inroads. Half of the Left-Congress support base in 2019 consisted of minority community voters, and the other half consisted of its core ideological voter base.
The task was herculean, as BJP has struggled to hold on to its Lok Sabha vote share in most Vidhan Sabha elections.
Except for Uttar Pradesh among big states, it has registered a decline of anywhere between 10-25%, in relative terms. This is because of the boost BJP receives in Lok Sabha elections on account of the ‘Modi factor’, which is not available to the same degree in state elections as local factors come into play.
From 2019 To 2021
The BJP’s worst nightmare held out to be true as the party lost about 3% vote share in 2021 against what it got in 2019, while on the other hand, Trinamool gained 4%, giving it a record mandate.
While the decimation of the Left and the Congress (-24%) helped BJP make big gains in the state in 2019, their complete rout in 2021 (-5%) helped Trinamool retain power at a time when one out of every four state government has been voted out of power since 2014 (excluding the 2021 results).
In 2019, BJP was leading in almost all the seats which the Left and Congress had won in 2016, barring nine assembly segments dominated by the minorities in the Malda region. On the other hand, it had also made inroads in Trinamool’s stronghold of Scheduled Castes reserved seats wooing the Matua community, and Scheduled Tribes reserved seats on the back of social projects done by the RSS in these regions.
In 2021, BJP needed 27 more seats compared to 2019 to secure a simple majority, and these needed to come from the Trinamool tally. The state has a high percentage of SC-ST population, almost 30%, and 84 reserved seats. BJP was leading in 46 such seats in 2019.
By promising permanent citizenship to the influential Matua community and with the help of Sangh’s groundwork among the tribals, the party hoped to increase its tally substantially, weaning away a large portion of the 38-seat leads of Trinamool in reserved seats and breaching the halfway mark.
However, BJP failed to better its 2019 record in the reserved seats, its tally declined by seven seats in 2021. Some Matuas were unhappy at the delay in the implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act.
BJP’s loss of 3% vote share in 2021 is accounted for by the loss of support amongst SC, ST, and OBC communities as shown in the table below. This went to the kitty of independents and smaller parties. Additionally, Trinamool gained from further consolidation of the minority votes in its favor due to the growing perception of a BJP victory.
The CPI (M) politburo admitted that the urge to defeat the BJP led to a sharp polarisation, squeezing out the Sanjukta Morcha.
There has been a lot of discussion on how the consolidation of minority voters led to Trinamool sweeping the Muslim community-dominated seats. Malda region which has a Muslim majority accounts for 49 seats. In two seats, elections were postponed due to the death of candidates.
The truth is that these seats had already shifted to Trinamool in the 2019 elections. Left and Congress, which had won 37 seats in Malda in 2016, was left with only nine leads in 2019 (-26).
Trinamool was leading in 26, BJP in 14, and Left-Congress in 9 seats of the Malda region in 2019. In 2021, Congress and the Left further lost all the 9 seats held by them to Trinamool.
The consolidation of minority votes in favor of Trinamool helped the party regain a large chunk of the non-minority-dominated seats it had lost to BJP in 2019.
Trinamool reclaimed 31 out of the 38 seats it had lost to BJP in 2019 helped by the additional Muslim community votes in these seats.
BJP Gave Up Gained Ground
Region-wise analysis reveals that BJP gave away the leads gained two years ago in Medinipur despite Suvendu Adhikari joining the party. It couldn’t hold onto its 2019 leads and suffered big losses in Burdwan (-15) and Presidency (-13), retaining only the gains made in Jalpaiguri (Hill region).
It needed to make inroads in the biggest region Presidency accounting for 108 seats but it failed miserably. This predominantly urban region including Howrah / Kolkata and seating the bhadralok seems to have been swayed by the insider versus outsider campaign of the Trinamool Congress and feared an end to Bengal’s exceptionalism if BJP came to power.
In this election, BJP was viewed as a party of subaltern Hindu caste groups while South Bengal houses the elite who take great pride in the rich culture and heritage of Bengal. The Bengali asmita (pride) card worked here in favor of the Trnimaool just like it worked in favor of the Modi-Shah duo in a tight contest in Gujarat in 2017.
Covid-19 Second Wave Impact?
In 2019, the BJP had led in those assembly segments that now went to polls in Phase-1 in 2021 and had tied with Trinamool in those that polled in Phase 5 and 7. It needed to make a dent in TMC’s strongholds in 2021’s Phases 2, 3, and 8. However, results show that this year, BJP trailed Trinamool across all phases, even in its stronghold region of Jangalmahal that went to the ballot in the first phase.
BJP’s tally fell by more than half from 2019 in the last three phases as the second wave of Covid-19 infections surged.
Many qualitative factors impacted BJP’s performance as well. The party was over-reliant on turncoats (only 6 out of 148 won), lacked a chief ministerial face, had factionalism, was unable to exploit anti-incumbency on the ground, lacked organisational machinery, was over-dependent on Modi, and drove a shrill negative pitch to the campaign, with slogans that put off women voters.
For now, BJP has established itself firmly as the principal opponent to Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal. The post-poll violence that has played out this week suggests the going won’t be easy and it will need to slog hard for the next five years to remain in contention for victory in 2026.
Amitabh Tiwari is a political commentator, strategist, and consultant advising political parties and leaders. He was a corporate and investment banker.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.