The BJP seems to have less of a sway in urban areas than the ruling TMC, the regional outfit
At almost halfway through a tough, now violent eight phase poll in West Bengal, the battle has shifted from the purely rural to urban centres and what are called seats of Greater Kolkata, a phase where the ruling Trinamool Congress holds sway and where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seeks to improve on its 2019 tally rather than its dismal 2016 show. In a turnaround that is typical of Indian politics, in West Bengal at least, the BJP seems to have less of a sway in urban areas than the ruling TMC, the regional outfit.
According to calculations made by the BJP itself, however, there is scope that the “samikarans” (community equations calculus) can be swung in their favour. “While in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP saw a rise in its support base, in Kolkata and its surrounding districts like Howrah, North 24 Parganas and South 24 Parganas which tot up to 91 Assembly seats, the BJP’s performance was below par, with the party posting a lead in only 16 of the seats, amounting to 36.2% of the vote. In comparison, the TMC swept the area with a lead in 75 seats and 49.4% vote share, the Left and the Congress were wiped out,” said a senior BJP office-bearer. He added that the party was optimistic about its prospects as the leap in vote share from the 2016 Assembly polls — at single digits — to being second in 72 seats and can make significant gains. In terms of vote share from 2019, the BJP posted its best performance in North 24 Parganas with 39.5% vote share and lagged behind in South 24 Parganas with 33.1% vote share.
The TMC, needless to say is far more optimistic of its prospects going ahead. Senior TMC leader and former Union Minister Saugata Roy told The Hindu that the battle entering the urban areas will see a clear edge for the TMC. “From the third phase itself we are having a good run. The fifth phase which is largely in North 24 Parganas and the last two phases will help us sail through,” he said. His colleague Kalyan Banerjee exuded confidence with regard to North Bengal too, which is dominated by the BJP. “The alliance with Bimal Gurung will help us. Out of the 26 seats we are fighting in North Bengal, we will win 25 including the three seats being fought by Bimal Gurung,” he said.
This rural-urban divide, albeit turned on its head in West Bengal, with the BJP showing a strong turn in rural Bengal, is put down to demographics, according analyst Sajjan Kumar, whose extensive tour of the State before the polls has created a lot of interest. He said that in constituencies in and around Kolkata the “Bengali exceptionalism” among the cultural elite still holds ground, where the BJP is still regarded as a bit of an outsider. The demographics also helps the TMC in the upcoming rounds of polling. “There are 27% Muslims in Bengal but they are not scattered across the State, instead they are concentrated in a few pockets and it is these pockets that will be going into vote in the next stages. This election is being found on religious lines and this gives the TMC an upper hand in the next rounds,” he added. He said, however that the TMC will struggle in the last phase in Birbhum district, where minority voters are far and few.
West Bengal has always charted its own unique electoral path, nothing surprising that the Rural-Urban divide too manifests itself differently here than in other parts of the country.