How many Seats BJP will win in Bengal ?
This article is written by Arka Chatterji and was first posted here
How many Seats will BJP win in Bengal?
A “Black Swan event” is something that deviates beyond what is normally expected of a situation and is extremely difficult to predict and are typically random and unexpected; that is how analyst and pundits described BJP performance in the Hindi heartland during the 2014 parliament election. In the run up to 2019 BJP is in the lookout for a new region to replicate the same phenomenon and West Bengal has emerged as a key state in the electoral maze.
Analyst have predicted that BJP will be able to achieve a rich haul of seats from Bengal however there are three possible political scenarios either of which can play out before 2019 elections basis which the seat projections can be done in a conclusive manner –
Scenario 1 for Seats will BJP win in Bengal
A quadrangular contest which sees all 4 political formations (AITC, BJP, INC and Left Front) contest separately. This is the best case scenario for BJP because Left and INC will get squeezed to a large extent only holding onto their cadre vote and may not win any seat at all. If this happens in 2019 then BJP gains massively in terms of vote share and would be in a good position to win around 3-4 seats. This scenario will also suit the AITC since it will further consolidate the Muslim vote bank in their favor.
Scenario 2 for Number of Seats will BJP win in Bengal
Triangular contest where Left front and the INC have formal pre poll alliance. In such a scenario this alliance will be in good position to win 5-6 seats mainly in Murshidabad and Malda districts. AITC also benefits since BJP does not become the sole beneficiary of the anti – AITC vote; BJP may achieve decent vote share but will not be able to win any respectable number of seats.
Scenario 3 for Bengal
Triangular contest with a formal pre poll alliance between AITC and INC. In this case UPA will sweep all 42 seats of Bengal with Left front being the biggest casualty staring at the verge of a complete wipe out, BJP also will not be able to open its account in this case.
West Bengal with 42 Lok Sabha seats is the 3rd most important state in the electoral map after UP (80 seats) and Maharashtra (48 seats) hence since 2014 BJP has renewed its effort to capture a larger slice of the political pie in Bengal but those efforts have yielded little electoral success till now. The Lok Sabha seats can be categorized into 4 major regions:-
North Bengal bordering the Himalayan range has 4 seats (Cooch Behar, Alipurduar, Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling) with these areas having major concentration of Scheduled Caste, tribal population working in tea plantations and Gorkha population living around Darjeeling district.
North Bengal sharing international border with Bangladesh has 7 seats (Balurghat, Raiganj, Murshidabad, Baharampur, Jangipur, Malda Uttar and Malda Dakshin) with significantly high Muslim population
Tribal dominated areas of South Bengal has 2 seats (Jhargram and Purulia)
Remaining regions of South Bengal has 29 seats (Arambag, Asansol, Bangaon, Bankura, Barasat, Bardhaman Purba, Bardhaman-Durgapur, Barackpur, Basirhat, Birbhum, Bishnupur, Bolpur, Diamond Harbor, DumDum, Ghatal, Hooghly, Howrah, Jadavpur, Jaynagar, Kanthi, Kolkata Dakshin, Kolkata Uttar, Krishnanagar, Mathurapur, Medinipur, Ranaghat, Sreerampur, Tamluk and Uluberia)
Bengal over the past 7 years of Didi’s rule has witnessed parties forming new formulations and then abandoning them abruptly. In the run up to 2014 elections AITC and INC decided to contest separately (unlike 2009 Parliament elections) thereby setting up a 4 cornered contest in Bengal for the first time. PM elect Modi did 3 rallies in a bid to boost BJP chances – one each in Kolkata, Asansol and Siliguri respectively (Refer table-1 for vote share)
Table1 – Vote share for respective parties in 2014 Lok Sabha Elections
*Left Front includes – CPI (M), CPI, RSP and Forward Bloc
BJP got 2 seats from Bengal – Asansol and Darjeeling and there effort to build a political organization base increased many fold with Dilip Ghosh becoming State chief (replacing Rahul Sinha) however they failed to create any electoral impact. During this period Surjyakanta Mishra succeeded Biman Bose as CPI (M) party secretary and decided to form an alliance with INC which was backed by Adhir Chwodhury (then PCC chief of Congress). In 2016 Assembly elections Bengal witnessed triangular contest but BJP dropped 6.6% of its vote share compared to 2014 and could manage to win only 3 seats (Refer table-2 for vote share)
Table2 – Vote share for respective parties in 2016 Assembly Elections
Post 2016 Assembly elections CPI (M) decided to end their alliance with INC during their Hyderabad Party Congress (https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/cpim-to-hold-its-22-nd-party-congress-at-hyderabad-for-six-days-from-april-18/articleshow/61104546.cms) and this abrupt decision harmed the party as they gradually started losing their organizational cadre to the BJP. Congress also got marginalized which was clearly evident that over the past two years out of the 44 MLA that got elected in 2016 18 have switched sides to AITC (11 in Murshidabad district, 4 in Malda and 3 in Nadia district) till date (https://www.theweek.in/news/india/2018/07/23/exodus-of-mlas-to-tmc-leaves-congress-stumbled-in-bengal.html)
Given this change in political landscape BJP replaced the Left and INC to emerge as the main challenger to AITC (Mukul Roy joined BJP around 2017 but no major minister/elected MLA is yet to jump ship which includes his own son MLA Subhranshu Roy) and this was evident in the subsequent by-elections that happened between 2016 and 2018.
National Media has tried to establish a new normal for Bengal – BJP is growing at the expense of Left Front and they are the sole beneficiary of their vote bank but electoral data throws up a whole new picture which has largely remained unsaid.
During 2016-2018 Bengal witnessed 8 by-elections – 4 Lok Sabha elections (Bangaon, Cooch Behar, Tamluk and Uluberia) and 4 Assembly elections (Kanthi Dakshin, Nuapada, Mahestala and Sabong). All these elections saw 4 cornered contest in which AITC was able to increase its vote share by 16% compared to 2014 Parliament elections whereas BJP gain was only restricted to 6% (Refer table 3 for vote swing)
Table3 – Vote share for respective parties across by-elections and comparison with 2014 Lok Sabha Elections
The massive rise in AITC vote share in South Bengal (Cooch Behar being the only seat contested that belongs to North Bengal) also witnessed during the panchayat elections where AITC established its dominance winning majority of the seats across the 3-tier panchayat system (Refer table 4 for South Bengal panchayat results)
Table4 –Party wise results in 2018 Panchayat Elections for South Bengal consisting 29 Parliament Seats:
*Note that as per the Supreme Court ruling for all the uncontested seats were awarded to AITC since they were the only political outfit to submit nominations
This dominance across South Bengal can be gauged in the recent by-elections held for Kolkata Municipal corporation (Ward 117 and 82) where AITC has retained the seats by polling more votes (2,500 in Ward 117 and 4,300 in Ward 82 respectively) whereas BJP surprisingly in both cases have polled less votes (around 1,500 in ward 117 and 2,300 in Ward 82) compared to 2015 Municipal elections.
Given the momentum AITC is enjoying electorally Mamata Bannerji in her 21 July address in Kolkata raised a political slogan– “Duhazaar unish biyalish e biyalish” (In 2019 we will win all 42 seats) . Albeit AITC is comfortably placed in around 30 seats but there are around 12 seats which needs closer introspection because of the ground level churning that has happened in and around the panchayat elections of 2018.
Rise of AITC in Murshidabad and Malda through large scale defections of elected MLA from both Congress and Left front along with several mid/lower level organizational leaders and cadres.
Rise of BJP in the tribal dominated districts of Jhargram and Purulia
Split in Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) with one faction led by Bimal Gurung supporting BJP and other led by Binoy Tamang which is close to AITC. Also Adivasi Vikas Parishad who has a considerably clout at Alipurduar is now supporting AITC. In 2009 and 2014 Parliament election, they supported BJP.
Seats belonging to Murshidabad district – Baharampur, Murshidabad and Jangipur
Murshidabad district with more than 65% Muslim population has always been the stronghold of the Congress party with Adhir Chowdhury ruling the roost with able support from Late Mannan Hossain. In 2014 INC won 2 of the 3 seats with Murshidabad going the way of CPI (M) where Mannan Hossain lost the seat by small margin (Refer table 5 for Lok Sabha figures)
Table5 – Vote share for respective parties in 2014 elections for Murshidabad District
*Left Front includes – CPI (M), CPI, RSP and Forward Bloc
Now post the 2016 elections where AITC performed badly (4 out of 22 MLA) the top leadership appointed Suvendu Adhikari as in-charge of the district and mass scale defections started to happen immediately. Lately Mannan Hossain left INC to become district chief of AITC; 11 INC MLA have joined Trinamool Congress over the last year and half along with several lower and mid level organizational cadre (https://www.thestatesman.com/bengal/murshidabad-congress-mla-joins-trinamul-1502604106.html). This organizational hemorrhage that both Congress and Left suffered was witnessed during the panchayat elections where large number of seats was won by AITC uncontested even at the Zilla Parishad level (Refer table 6 for Panchayat figures)
Table6 –Party wise results in 2018 Panchayat Elections for Murshidabad
Given such a scenario these 3 seats are very tough for INC or Left to retain because AITC will be looking to snatch them all. Situation in the Murshidabad seat has also improved for AITC with the joining of former CPI (M) Rajya Sabha MP (most likely to contest in 2019) Moinul Hasaan and Nabagram MLA Kanai Mondal.
However since Baharampur is represented by Adhir Chowdhury and Jangipur by Abhijit Mukherjee (son of former president Pranab Mukherjee) their individual popularity and goodwill may just bridge the organizational lacuna that INC is facing at the ground level.
So if Scenario 1 (all 4 parties contest separately) plays out in Bengal then Baharampur – Tough fight between AITC vs. INC slight edge to INC; Jangipur – Tough fight between AITC vs. INC slight and Murshidabad – Tough fight between AITC vs. INC slight edge to AITC
However in case of Scenario 2 (INC + Left alliance) or Scenario 3 (INC+ AITC alliance) Congress will win all the seats.
Seats belonging to Malda district – Malda Dakshin and Malda Uttar
Malda district with more than 50% Muslim population has always been the stronghold of the Congress with Late Barkat Ganikhan Chowdhury the beacon around whom the politics of this district has always played out. Both these seats are represented by his family members – Brother Abu Nasser in Malda Uttar and Niece Mausam Noor in Malda Dakshin. Malda shares an international border with Bangladesh and with 2 neighboring states – Bihar (Malda Uttar) and Jharkhand (Malda Dakshin) (Refer table 7 for Lok Sabha figures)
Table7 – Vote share for respective parties in 2014 elections for Malda District
*Left Front includes – CPI (M), CPI, RSP and Forward Bloc
Like Murshidabad Suvendu Adhikari became in-charge of the district and mass scale defections started to happen immediately with several lower level organizational cadre joining AITC. 4 MLA from Malda jumped ship just after the panchayat elections (https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/former-bjp-mp-chandan-mitra-4-congress-mlas-in-west-bengal-join-tmc-1292128-2018-07-21). AITC also overtook INC as the lead political force in the district and BJP has emerged as a strong force which is clearly evident from the panchayat elections (Refer table 8 for Panchayat figures)
Table8 –Party wise results in 2018 Panchayat Elections for Malda
The INC leadership in Malda post the panchayat result was vociferous for INC-AITC alliance since the BJP has been building a strong organization (they have 1 MLA from Baishnab Nagar under Malda Dakshin). Given such a scenario if a quadrangular contest happens then both these seats will become very difficult for INC to retain. This is because BJP may consolidate the Hindu vote and splintering of the Muslim vote can spell trouble; only family legacy and personal goodwill can help INC overcome such a scenario.
So if Scenario 1 (all 4 parties contest separately) plays out in Bengal then Malda Uttar – Tough fight between AITC vs. INC vs. BJP and Malda Dakshin – Tough fight between AITC vs. INC vs. BJP slight edge to INC
However in case of Scenario 2 (INC + Left alliance) or Scenario 3 (INC+ AITC alliance) Congress will win both the seats.
Tribal seats in South Bengal – Purulia and Jhargram
Given the electoral hegemony AITC enjoys in South Bengal both these seats were assumed to be safe, a quick glance at the Lok Sabha vote share would confirm this fact (Refer table 9 for Lok Sabha figures)
Table9 – Vote share for respective parties in 2014 Lok Sabha Elections
However things post 2016 changed at the ground level with the disintegration of the Left front and INC cadre base shifting towards BJP to combat AITC and tribal community in this area started receiving lot of resources from neighboring district Jharkhand. This mobilization of cadre and resources was seen firsthand during the panchayat elections (Refer table 10 for Panchayat figures)
Table10 –Party wise results in 2018 Panchayat Elections for Jhargram and Purulia
The panchayat results came as a rude shock to AITC as they rejigged their leadership at the district level especially in Purulia where Sristidhor Mahato was removed as district in charge and Aghor Hembram was brought in since he was the person who had tackled the Maoist menace to establish AITC as the principal political outfit back in 2010-2011. Given all the churning that is still happening at ground level both these seats are difficult to predict at this moment:
So if Scenario 1 (all 4 parties contest separately) plays out in Bengal then Jhargram – Tough fight between AITC vs. BJP slight edge to BJP Purulia – Tough fight between AITC vs. BJP slight edge to AITC
However in case of Scenario 2 (INC + Left alliance) or Scenario 3 (INC+ AITC alliance) AITC will win both the seats.
There are 4 seats in the hilly region of North Bengal which are diverse in terms of demographics and political maneuvering – Darjeeling, Alipurduar, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar.
Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat has gone the BJP way in last 2 elections basis the support provided by Bimal Gurung lead GJAM (Gorkha Janamukti Morcha). This support was based on the fact that if BJP forms the government at the Centre then they will form a new state by carving this portion out of Bengal. But post the 2017 Bhanu Bhavan fiasco which led to the 104 day strike the political dynamics in this region has changed (https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/gjm-ends-104-day-strike-all-about-darjeeling-crisis-gorkhaland-demand/story-cYX1lHkt2QyHURqeD1GowK.html):-
GOJAM has split into 2 factions – Bimal Gurung who is currently in hiding and other lead by Binoy Tamang and Anik Thapa.
Tamang became the head of GTA (Gorkha Territorial Authority) as appointed by the State government and has control of the entire resource and cadre of this hill region.
All three GOJAM MLA (Kalimpong, Kurseong and Darjeeling) have now become part of the Tamang camp and AITC has also spread its organization wings by controlling local bodies especially in Mirik.
There are smaller outfits like Subhash Gishing’s party GNLF and Harka Chetri in Kalimpong who have decent influence in this region (Chetri polled 41% as AITC backed independent in 2016 Assembly elections)
As things are shaping up it is possible that Gurung may support BJP and Tamang may go with AITC with the role of smaller hill parties like GNLF becoming crucial to determine final outcome. Hence if Scenario 1 (all 4 parties contest separately) plays out then we can witness tough fight between AITC vs. BJP with slight edge to BJP.
However in case of Scenario 2 (INC + Left alliance) BJP may still have the edge but in case of Scenario 3 (INC+ AITC alliance) AITC may have the decisive edge to win this seat.
Alipurduar Lok Sabha seat was won by AITC from RSP (Left front ally) in 2014 but BJP polled around 27.5% vote share. With the Adivasi Bikas Parishad (strong local outfit) formally aligning itself with AITC in around 2016 and its leader Wilson Champamari becoming minister in the government the organizational roots have strengthened for AITC. This was pretty evident from the panchayat election results where BJP failed to make major gains at the expense of Trinamool Congress (Refer table 11 for Panchayat figures)
Table11 –Party wise results in 2018 Panchayat Elections for Alipurduar
Since this district shares its border with Assam and the CAB (Citizenship Amendment Bill) which has caused trouble across North-East will dent BJP vote bank in some way; it’s is pretty safe to predict that Alipurduar seat will go the way of AITC irrespective of Scenario 1(all 4 parties contesting separately) or Scenario 2 (INC + Left alliance)/ Scenario 3 (INC + AITC alliance)
Jalpaiguri Lok Sabha seat was won by AITC from CPI(M) in 2014 and the party has strengthened its organizational base thereafter. In the panchayat elections AITC has won more than 75% seats across the 3 tier system which proves the electoral dominance it enjoys.
An interesting development has happened over the last year – Calcutta High court circuit bench which was supposed to be opened to expedite pending legal matters has been stalled by the Central government. This has led to discontent among the people and local BJP leadership has not been able to handle the situation effectively. A key local outfit KPP (Kamtapur people party) who used to demand separate statehood on linguistic rights has tendered their support to AITC post 2016 since the government has set up “Kamtapuri Language Board” where administrative works and school syllabus are based on Kamtapuri/Rajbangsi language.
Hence it’s is pretty safe to predict that Jalpaiguri seat will go the way of AITC irrespective of Scenario 1(all 4 parties contesting separately) or Scenario 2 (INC + Left alliance)/ Scenario 3 (INC + AITC alliance)
Cooch Behar Lok Sabha seat was the gateway for AITC in North Bengal by defeating Forward bloc (Left front ally) in 2014 but they increased their vote share in the 2016 by-elections; this by-election saw the withering of Left vote bank which ensured that BJP moved up to 2nd position (Refer table 12 for Lok Sabha figures)
Table12 – Vote share for respective parties for Cooch Behar in parliament elections
*Left Front includes – CPI (M), CPI, RSP and Forward Bloc
This dominance was evident in the panchayat elections where AITC won 1051 out of 1295 contested Gram panchayat seats and 227 out of 261 contested Panchayat Samity seats. With Cooch Behar sharing it’s inter- state border with Kokrajor district of Assam and the CAB (Citizenship Amendment Bill) causing major upheaval it will surely dent BJP vote bank in this seat.
Given such a situation it’s is pretty safe to predict that Cooch Behar seat will go the way of AITC irrespective of Scenario 1(all 4 parties contesting separately) or Scenario 2 (INC + Left alliance)/ Scenario 3 (INC + AITC alliance)
Raiganj Lok Sabha seat based in Uttar Dinajpur was once the stronghold of INC stalwart Late Priya Ranjan Dashmunsi. Like Murshidabad and Malda this is a minority dominated district which shares an international border with Bangladesh and state border with Bihar. In 2014 Left front candidate Md. Salim won this seat by a wafer thin majority (1356 votes to be precise) against INC candidate Deepa Dashmunsi (wife of L/O Priya Ranjan Dashmunsi) (Refer table 13 for Lok Sabha figures)
Table13– Vote share for respective parties in 2014 Lok Sabha Elections
Post 2014 AITC reworked on their organization and in 2016 Assembly elections they had 32.1% vote share in this Lok Sabha seat (if all 7 assembly segments for this Lok Sabha are aggregated). This is further witnessed when panchayat election results came out with AITC sweeping seats across the 3-tier system (Refer table 14 for Panchayat figures)
Table14 –Party wise results in 2018 Panchayat Elections for Uttar Dinajpur
But post panchayat elections certain ground level developments have taken place – Ex AITC minister Abdul Karim Chowdhury representing Islampur who left the party after 2016 assembly defeat to INC K. L. Agarwal (who has now jumped ship to AITC) has floated his own outfit and is likely to contest as independent supported by BJP.
Around September 2018 Daribhit school incident happened where 2 school children died due to alleged police firing and BJP has been trying to use this incident to drive anti government sentiment around this region (https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/kolkata/west-bengal-students-clash-with-police-north-dinajpur-school-5367166/). Now with the Muslim vote liable to split in 4 directions – AITC, Left, INC and for Abdul Chowdhury followed with the possible consolidation of Hindu votes behind BJP equations will change big time; if Scenario 1 (all 4 parties contest separately) plays out then we can witness tough fight between – AITC vs. INC vs. Left vs. BJP with slight edge to AITC
However in case of Scenario 2 (INC + Left alliance) or Scenario 3 (INC+ AITC alliance) Congress will win this seat.
Some recent developments have taken place where AITC has suspended 2 MP from their party – Soumitra Khaa from Bishnupur who has gone ahead and joined BJP and Anupam Hazra from Bolpur. Now these MP are in no way mass leaders and their movement away from AITC is unlikely to harm them since the victory they had in 2014 was primarily due to the organizational strength.