Since Mamata Banerjee's sound thrashing of the BJP in West Bengal, her poll strategist Prashant Kishor has said in multiple interviews that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has limited electoral appeal, Home Minister Amit Shah is overrated as a strategist and that he does not hold a magic wand to swing votes. He also said that West Bengal choosing status quo has a lot to do with the Mamata Banerjee government's delivery on pro-poor schemes.
One may agree partially or fully with Prashant Kishor or PK as he is popularly known, but the big question is whether all the issues of poor governance, corruption and extortion raised by the BJP in its campaign against Mamata's decade-old rule were untrue, since her party has won 213 seats, two more than she had won in 2016.
Or were Modi's rant against Mamata in all his rallies counter-productive? Did the BJP misread the large crowds at its rallies as a harbinger of change? Was the hubris of the BJP (as exemplified by the campaign styles of Modi and Amit Shah) the real reason for it failing to in its Mission Bengal?
A closer reading of the results in different constituencies show a variety of reasons for the BJP's failure to do as well as it expected and being outsmarted by Mamata Banerjee on several counts. The BJP's election of candidates was faulty and the party depended too much on the possibility that Hindu voters would be polarised.
In fact, Bengal's Muslim voters consolidated in favour of the Trinamool Congress in over 100 constituencies where they are a decisive factor, giving it a bigger advantage over the BJP.
A number of Hindu voters who were formerly supporters of the Left or the Congress and switched over to the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, returned to these parties rather than the BJP.
As Kishor explained in one of his interviews soon after the results, Muslim votes totally consolidated in favour of Mamata. So did voters like the Matua community who were targeted by the BJP. But less than 50 per cent of Hindu voters chose to be with the BJP. The rest went with Mamata. The BJP's voter support dipped by three percent in these elections compared to the 2019 polls.
Also, the BJP did not gain much from importing leaders and candidates from the Trinamool Congress. It was, in fact, counter-productive in many seats. Barring three, all former Trinamool Congress leaders and legislators who were fielded as candidates by the BJP, lost in the assembly elections. Of course, Mamata’s protégé-turned-adversary Suvendu Adhikari managed to defeat her in Nandigram. Adhikari had joined the BJP in December 2020. Also, BJP national vice president Mukul Roy, who joined the party after quitting TMC in 2017, won from Krishnanagar defeating TMC’s actor-turned-candidate Koushani Mukherjee. At Natabari in north Bengal, former TMC legislator Mihir Goswami, who joined BJP in November 2020, was a big success.
But all the others lost – be it former minister Rajib Banerjee, a prominent face of the Singur movement Rabindranath Bhattacharya or Mukul Roy’s son Subhranshu Roy. In Bhabanipur in south Kolkata, Mamata’s home turf, the BJP had fielded Trinamool Congress (TMC) turncoat Rudranil Ghosh against veteran TMC leader and state power minister Sovandeb Chatterjee. Ghosh lost. Former TMC legislators who joined the BJP, such as Baishali Dalmiya from Bally, Dipak Kumar Halder from Diamond Harbour, Prabir Ghosal from Uttarpara and Biswajit Kundu from Kalna, also lost.
At least 140 Trinamool Congress leaders, including around 37 legislators, had joined the BJP since 2017. Many who joined just ahead of the elections were fielded by the BJP. Mamata repeatedly attacked the defectors, calling them "traitors"and alleging that many of them were neck-deep in corruption.
The BJP was helpless as Mamata played her card of being "daugher of Bengal" and her campaign on a wheel-chair after she suffered an injury in Nandidgram) gave her party a big boost. 'Bangla nijer meyekei chay' (Bengal wants her daughter) slogan found resonance with the people. That saw West Bengal's over 3.7 crore women voters, 49 per cent of the electorate, stand by her.
Mamata said her government's 200 women-centric schemes such as Kanyashree and Rupashree, which grant funds for education and marriage, and Sabooj Sathi which gives bicycles for girl students and education loans, would favour her. They did.
The BJP did not realise that since the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, when the BJP gave her a scare winning 18 of the state's seats to the Trinamool's 22, Mamata, aided by Prashant Kishor and his team, began to work on the ground swell of anger against several lower level TMC leaders who were often accused of petty corruption in execution of public welfare schemes.
Kishor came up with the '.Didi Ke Bolo' (Tell Didi) campaign under which citizens could directly approach Mamata with their grievances. Kishor's team also gave inputs about candidates, which saw Mamata drop many senior leaders and bring new faces. She was also asked to tackle corruption in the middle and lower rungs of the party, following BJP's accusation of large-scale irregularities in distribution of relief following cyclone Amphan.
The BJP also paid a heavy price for its inability to project strong local faces as its campaign was largely seen as dominated by Modi and Amit Shah.
Undoubtedly, Mamata will emerge from this assembly election as one of India’s most powerful regional leaders. She is bound to work for unity, especially among all the non-Congress and non-BJP political forces.
Modi was hoping that West Bengal would come under his influence in his second term, just as Uttar Pradesh was won by the BJP in his first term. He campaigned extensively in the state, even at a time of the pandemic. He challenged Mamata by promising a sonar (golden) Bengal if the BJP won. But the people decided to stick by their Didi. The BJP made a big mistake by making this election a contest between the PM and Mamata.