NRC scare may fizzle out BJP’s momentum in West Bengal

A community Durga puja pandal themed on the condition of refugees in the view of the panic over NRC in Kolkata. Shuttlecocks and badminton rackets randomly in front of the marquee conveys the impression that “refugees are nothing but shuttlecocks lobbed to each other’s side by two countries”. (PTI Photo)

The BJP’s stunning success in the Lok Sabha elections in West Bengal, where the party won 18 seats and got about 40% of the vote, seems to have created an impression among a section of party leaders that they will breeze through the 2021 Assembly elections and oust the Trinamool Congress (TMC) from power.

However, recent factors like the panic over the imposition of NRC in the state, and further consolidation of minority votes in favour of the TMC, may result in the BJP facing the same fate it did in the 2016 Assembly elections.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP sprang a surprise by winning two seats and 17% of the votes in the state. After it won the by-election to the Basirhat South Assembly seat, it seemed the saffron party was set to take on the TMC.

However, its momentum started to fizzle out, mainly due to public perception that it had a covert understanding with the TMC over the Saradha chit fund scam. Its failure to put up a fight against TMC in the 2015 Municipal elections due to intense factional feud further dented its public image, where it failed to win a single seat. 

The loss of momentum continued in the 2016 Assembly polls, when it won only three seats.

It faces a similar situation this time around. 

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s campaign about a large number of Hindus being left out of the NRC in Assam and allegation that the BJP plans on driving out Bengalis using the NRC has rattled the BJP leadership.

Amit Shah's instruction to the state leadership to desist from referring to the NRC and focus on the Citizenship Amendment Bill instead is also an indication the BJP might have gone overboard with its rhetoric.

If the TMC can keep the NRC issue alive till 2021, then it will be able to further consolidate its minority vote base. Hindu voters, especially those who came to India from erstwhile East Pakistan during partition, may also rally behind the TMC.

Above all, the 2021 Assembly elections will largely be fought on state issues and the Bengal BJP is yet to project a leader who can rival Mamata's stature and charisma.

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