In his interview with Republic a few weeks ago, Prashant Kishore made an interesting point about how religious polarization as an electoral strategy has hard limits. His claim was that it levels off at around 35-40%. While I don’t agree with that claim
given how in Assam (which has a much larger Muslim population) his hypothesis doesn’t seem to hold up, I will concede that he’s right within the framework of the political realities of Bengal. The BJP wasn’t able to mobilize the majority to vote for them in a big way, and their
vote share reflects that. This isn’t to say that the BJP’s campaign centered around religious polarization: a major theme of the campaign was their giving a voice to resistance against the deeply entrenched political violence, but the Hindu-Muslim issue was certainly a key
strategy on both sides. The lack of a credible state-level leader reflected this, and lending credence to this hypothesis is Suvendu Adhikari’s win over Mamata: had they perhaps been able to project a strong candidate as the potential CM, they may have eked through.
@KanchanGupta in his analysis after the election put forth a pretty fascinating idea: had Bengalis (and rural, subaltern Bengalis, in particular) perhaps resigned to their fate about the realities of electoral and political violence in their state? It could be, given how
endemic it is to Bengal. We tend to sometimes forget that the rule of the Communists only ended a decade ago, and the state apparatus under Mamata has essentially carried the Left’s blood-stained legacy forward. The BJP was always fighting a massive uphill battle, with
no substantial local leadership or cadre and the dearth of good candidates for all 294 constituencies. Despite the low margins in many, many seats, the national media definitely overestimated the BJP’s chances. Their vote percentage actually dropped since the 2019 parliamentary
elections, which may seem shocking, but makes perfect sense, actually. Local elections can’t be won by milking the Modi factor dry; this has been demonstrated time and again in assembly elections across the country, a vast majority of which the BJP has lost since 2014.
The massive swing for the BJP in 2019 was also attributed by analysts afterwards to a rebellion against the TMC for preventing voters from voting in the Panchayat polls then through coercion, and voters have since been largely pacified.
At the end of the day, this was a big, big loss for the BJP, and definitely will exacerbate political violence in Bengal and will most certainly facilitate further demographic change, possibly to the extent that by 2026, elections could even be a foregone conclusion.
Large scale demographic flux is now a reality in many states across the nation: Bengal, Assam, TN, Andhra, Maharashtra and Bihar. The BJP’s electoral prospects, particularly in states like Bengal and Assam, will only continue to dip as migration outward (to other states)
increases, and cross-border migration from Bangladesh also gets more rampant. There’s an interesting parallel with Assam, where both the BJP and the UPA ran nakedly polarizing campaigns, and the majority vote got the BJP over the line. Electoral issues are vastly different there,
but the case could be made that Assamese and Bengali Hindus see the threat of demographic change (in a state where they’re fast being relegated to a minority) as more immediate, and therefore they coalesced yet again to vote the BJP into power.
All in all, a huge loss for the BJP, which is now staring down the barrel of structural and demographic hurdles to electoral success, which could almost be impossible to overcome. Modi’s popularity is still very high, but the lack of strong, salt of the earth local leaders
in many states will continue to hurt the BJP. Dark days ahead for Bengal, which may fast be heading into failed state territory, and uncontrollable demographic alteration and extreme levels of political violence will continue to ravage it. The people of Bengal may have voted in
their own doom. Onwards to Uttar Pradesh in 2022 though, where the BJP might be in for a stiff challenge after their botched handling of covid and a disastrous couple of years for the Indian economy. Remember, no victory for the BJP is a given.

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