In 1999 LS elections, NDA won 40 out of 54 seats in then undivided Bihar. Even Bihar strongman Lalu Prasad Yadav lost his seat to Sharad Yadav of JD(U). In 9 months, State elections were due and NDA was overconfident about win. Public squabbling had already started for CM chair and there was a wave of RJD and INC rebels into NDA fold. NDA went into elections as a disgruntled group and dividend house with no face to counter Lalu Prasad Yadav. In the end, a sure win translated into hung house with NDA had to bear humiliation of being 2nd largest group in house. To their surprise, NDA discovered that many groups that managed to get ticket from NDA quota (such as Bihar Jan Congress with 20 seats out of 324), had a backroom deal to surrender seats to RJD and INC. To their horror, they also discovered that strongmen and criminals elements are more committed to rigging efforts in state elections as compared to LS elections as they had a self-interest in saving a regime with zero interest in law and order. With creation of Jharkhand in 2000, BJP literally divested itself from Bihar and it took long time (13 years) before a BJP leader (Modi in Gandhi Maidan) aspired to challenge hold of local satraps in Bihar.
Bengal 2021 is quite similar to Bihar 2000 – A failed state with high level of general dissatisfaction, abysmal economic progress, absence of jobs and absence of law and order but a popular face that can capture public imagination presiding over abject misgovernance. With local policing and administrative mechanism outsourced to ruling party workers and political committees, these states resemble Mao-like party-society state. Voters are afraid of expressing their opinions in public due to fear of reprisals and political killings of their loved ones. BJP fought in similar fashion in both states and failed spectacularly in encashing mass discontent in both cases. In fact, BJP failure in Bihar 2015 can also be clubbed in similar group in terms of political outcome though social environment was not that hostile.
After loss in Bengal, as happened in past, widespread brutal violence unleashed against losing side i.e. BJP workers. Most of RW luminaries expressed their anger at inaction of Modi and Shah over violence. However, one may ask these esteemed personalities why Congress could not save itself from violence and extinction in Bengal in last 44 years despite reign of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi who apparently know ‘how to wield power’. If BJP has to rise or survive politically, it cannot depend on state power forever. Local BJP unit need to gain street power and built an ecosystem which allow BJP to carry out political activities without any fear in Bengal and all other states. If you need executive action form big daddies in Delhi, then you have no right to exist in a state like Bengal. Only good thing about Bengal outcome is steadfast refusal of Modi from taking an executive action against democratically elected government. Had he taken action, he would have converted BJP into a copy of INC with weak and divided local units. dependent on center for survival. Once congress voted out of central government in late 1980s, it could never recover in a plethora of states across India as state leadership was not trained or molded to give a fight on its own. As Modi himself had been a regional satrap, he understood the same and avoided the trap. In fact, violence has shown that BJP is not fit to rule Bengal which unlike other states, is dependent on strongmen for law and order. Imagine had BJP won and that sort of violence had taken place ?
Nitish Kumar of 2000s provide a great template for BJP to follow in Bengal. Stung in 2000, he started working on ground to build local network of muscleman and booth workers who can counter rigging efforts from Lalu’s party. He was a local face with strong connect with people and had experience and knowledge about state apparatus. By 2005 state elections, he was undisputed leader of NDA in Bihar and enjoyed widespread credibility among masses. BJP itself rode to power in neighboring Assam on Himanta Biswa Sarma, a local face with strong knowledge state administrative apparatus and mass appeal imported form INC. In fact, both Sarbnanda Sonowal and Himanta was imports. BJP need to build a strong grassroot network of aggressive cadre with a local leadership having strong undisputed Bengali credentials. Mamata won Bengal in 2011 on street power. People knew very clearly that if they vote against left and left still win, there are armed Mamata supporters who would save their houses and families. This is how Nitish turned it in Bihar and that’s how BJP need to evolve in Bengal. BJP already has its Nitish Kumar in Suvendu Adhikari. It is time to give him free hand to build a state unit fit to rule Bengal.
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