Nothing could be more apt to describe ‘vocal for local’ than Mamata Banerjee taking oath as chief minister of West Bengal for the third consecutive time on 5th May. There are many reasons which could explain how ‘Didi’ managed to successfully stave off a challenge mounted by BJP’s well-oiled electoral machinery led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. The BJP can also pat itself on the back for winning an impressive 77 seats in the 294 member West Bengal assembly. But a fundamental question haunts the saffron party and it became more so evident after the election results of the five states.
The fight in Bengal was much closer than the final figures portray. There is no denying Mamata was made to fight for each seat in all the eight phases of the election. But the numbers also shed light on what seems to be BJP’s Achilles heel – lack of credible local leadership. Ever since their home run in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, BJP has been a party in a hurry to capture political power across the country. In the process, BJP prefers to dent the opposition by winning over their key players. But time and again, electoral verdicts have sent a clear message – invest in good regional satraps.
A closer look at BJP’s vote share between 2019 Lok Sabha and the 2021 assembly election provides insight into how the saffron party fares better in Lok Sabha elections as compared to assembly elections. In West Bengal, we can see a dip of nearly 2.5% for BJP (down from 40.64% to 38.13%) while the TMC gained over 4% vote share (up from 43.69% to 47.94%) from the 2019 Lok Sabha election. It is also important to consider the loss of vote share for Congress (around 2.5%) and CPM (around 1.5%) to view the final picture. If we add the loss of vote share of Congress and CPM, it would almost add up to TMC’s numbers. But then what would explain BJP’s loss in vote share?
One of the possible explanations for this loss in vote share could be the lack of credible BJP candidates in some seats which could include those who defected from the TMC. This may have led to voter indifference among a small section of the voters but is likely to have had a big impact on BJP’s fortunes. A swing of 2% vote in favour of BJP would have almost brought it neck-to-neck with TMC in terms of vote share in these assembly elections. Even though BJP did not have much at stake in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the overall trend is clear. They do not perform as well in states as they do in national elections. This is mainly due to the Modi factor which plays a decisive role in queuing up voters for BJP in national elections.
A recent survey also echoes the same sentiment that voters seem to make a ‘categorical distinction’ between a national and a state election. This trend holds true not just for the just concluded assembly elections, but even in those four states that went to polls along with the Lok Sabha in 2019. The table below shows BJP’s vote share was almost 6.5% higher in Odisha for Lok Sabha (38.88%) than the assembly elections (32.49%). BJD was on the flip side with 1.5% higher vote share in the assembly (44.71%) as compared to Lok Sabha elections (43.32%). BJP’s vote share shows the same trend in Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Andhra Pradesh (AP) that went to polls in 2019. Though BJP won a landslide victory in the Arunachal assembly elections, their vote share went down by nearly 8%.
The two states that stood out for BJP are Arunachal Pradesh (2019) and Assam (2021) where they retained power. But that is largely due to the likes of Himanta Biswa Sarma, Sarbananda Sonowal and Pema Khandu as credible local faces in their ranks. Modi may be the most popular leader pan India but he too has his limitations when it comes to state elections. The same question that BJP asks at the national level, ‘who is Modi’s alternative’, hounds the party in states which have charismatic regional leaders. It’s time for BJP to introspect whether they want to stick to the easy route of importing leaders from other parties or get ‘vocal about local’ leadership.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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