21 January, 2021

The Big, Bold War Machine

Bihar done. Bengal and Assam next. The saffron rath rolls on.

Mukul Roy, third from left, top BJP leader from Bengal, with party colleagues
Photograph by Sandipan Chatterjee
The Big, Bold War Machine

For the all-conquering war machine of the BJP, no election is too small. No battle too big. From forthcoming assembly polls in Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Pondicherry to elections to the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC), the party has set sights on winning them all.  One election at a time.

And so it was no surprise when the BJP assigned a leader as senior as national general secretary Bhupender Yadav to strategise on the GHMC, turning it into a big-ticket election. For the BJP—upbeat after winning the Dubbaka bypoll in Telangana—capturing the Hyderabad metropolitan agency would allow it to establish a base not just in the state but also spread its wings in Andhra Pradesh. It is the 74 lakh electorate of GHMC that the BJP is targeting with its youth wing leader Tejasvi Surya referring to Hyderabad as Bhagyanagar, marking the stirrings of polarisation in the city with a sizeable Muslim population.

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Due to its strategic location in the Deccan, Hyderabad is also the gateway to the deep south—a region where the party is trying to expand its footprints. Union home minister Amit Shah, who still remains the party’s key strategist, on a recent visit to Tamil Nadu exhorted party workers to strengthen the party base and make an impact in the coming assembly elections in 2021. The target evidently is far beyond—the 2026 elections.

However, the West Bengal elections are the most critical for the BJP—perhaps even more than what Uttar Pradesh polls have traditionally been for the party. The BJP believes it’s time to reap the harvest of the seeds it started sowing soon after coming to power at the Centre in 2014. Shah, then party president, began the task of strengthening the organisation in the state, making frequent visits. The party managed to win 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in 2019.

West Bengal is most critical for the BJP—perhaps even more than UP...

During his latest visit to the state, in the middle of the Bihar elections, Shah made it clear that West Bengal is the “prime focus state” for the party and it will “fight and win it with a massive mandate”. Party national general secretary and in-charge of West Bengal Kailash Vijayvargia says that the aim is to win 200 of the 249 seats in the state. His demand is either bringing the state under President’s rule or the Election Commission should ensure that people cast their vote without fear. “The law and order machinery has collapsed,” he tells Outlook.

Further east of Bengal, in Assam, the ruling BJP, however, has been forced to change its tactics for next year’s assembly elections. The party seems to be on a sticky wicket in the state it won for the first time in 2016, arguably at the peak of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity.

It was a big victory for the BJP, making inroads into the north-east, having stitched up crucial alliances with the regional parties, including Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bodoland People’s Front (BPF). It also benefited from the three-term anti-incumbency against the Congress government.

The alliances were important for the BJP as it alone had a vote-share of 29.5 per cent which was less than that of Congress’s 31 per cent. AGP and BPF had chipped in with a vote-share of eight and four per cent, respectively. In the Lok Sabha elections, the regional parties drew a blank, while the BJP won nine of the 14 seats. This time around, the BJP is not going to find it easy.

The party is aware that issues like National Register of Citizens (NRC) and Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) have been milked way too much to sway voters again. And hence, the focus has shifted to “Assamese pride”, with the BJP peddling an alleged threat to the state’s language and culture from the Miyas—Muslims whose roots lie in Bangladesh.

“It is about India’s composite culture, particularly the Assamese culture. Alien Miya culture will not be allowed to spread here. Bihar and bypoll results, which reiterate the Lok Sabha verdict, shall impact Assam and Bengal results,” says BJP’s key person for the state, Himanta Biswa Sarma.

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