With the end of 2020, West Bengal, even if the assembly elections will take place only in April-May 2021, has become the most careful political theater. Things were not very different 10 years ago. At the time, the 34-year-old Marxist government (CPI-M) was led by the government of the Left Front, whose future was at stake in an aggressive All India Trinamool (AITC) Congress. Today, the AITC faces the challenge of surviving the political challenge of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). As ironic as it may seem, the growth of the BJP in the state was facilitated by a large-scale shift from CPI-M supporters to the former. The story of West Bengal, in a way, is symptomatic of how politics has taken a decisive shift to the right in India over the past 10 years. Here are four diagrams that put this in perspective.
1. From the existential crisis to the new hegemon: the decade of BJP’s return
After a shock defeat in the 2004 elections, the BJP fought in the 2009 elections, with Lal Krishna Advani as the candidate for prime minister. The party managed to win only 116 seats in Lok Sabha, its worst performance since the 1991 polls. The BJP did not win a single major assembly election in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Things began to look after what Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement in 2011 has affected the popularity of Congress. When Narendra Modi won his third term as Gujarat chief minister in December 2012, the situation returned. The BJP repeated its victories in the main state polls in 2013 and became the first party in 1984 to gain a majority of its own in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The fact that he improved his performance from 2014 to 2019 has cast doubt on any doubts that he has become the new hegemon in Indian politics. Congress, on the other hand, has failed to bring its act to the national level and, in some respects, is still haunted by the ghosts of the 2011 Anna movement.
2. Mirror image of the rise of the right: a weak left
In 2010, communist parties ruled in three states: West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. While the Kerala Communists can be released from the election results for the newly concluded local bodies – making the CPI (M)-led Left Front the favorite in next year’s rally polls – the left has suffered severe upheavals in West Bengal and Tripura. In these states, the right ate the left, albeit in different ways. In Bengal, the left has begun to lose ground in support of the BJP since 2014, a process that gained new momentum in 2019. In Tripura, when the Left Front lost to the BJP in the 2018 polls, the BJP and CPI (M) were almost neck and neck in the voting quota. But in the 2019 elections, the CPI (M) was demoted by a distant third, with Congress returning as the BJP’s closest rival. Due to a wandering in West Bengal and Tripura and only one place in Kerala, the Left recorded the worst performance of 2019.
3. The Political Alliance of Muslims: Modus Vivendi in New India
If there is one fact that defines the rise of the BJP as the dominant political force in the last 10 years, it is its Muslim alliance policy, which accounts for more than 14% of India’s 1.3 billion people. The current regime has successfully led the three key issues of building a Ram temple in Ayodhya, the repeal of Article 370 which gave special status to Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir; and the criminalization of the Muslim practice of the Triple Talaq. Hindutva further pushed the envelope with issues such as (political) flashing the National Register of Citizens with a law amending citizenship; which includes citizens of all major religions in India except Muslims or recent laws against inter-community marriages in the name of preventing so-called love jihad. This rhetoric was accompanied in practice by the BJP which fielded very few Muslim candidates in all elections and a sharp decline in the share of Muslim MPs in Lok Sabha in 2014 and 2019. Certainly, the share of Muslim parliamentarians in Lok Sabha was the lowest. in the 1962 elections, not in 2019.
4. Surviving in the Age of Hindu Consolidation: The Biggest Challenge for Any Third Political Alternative
The 1990s and 2000s were the era of coalition politics in India. Even though the country had a Congress or a BJP prime minister for most of this period, they were dependent on other parties for survival. If we look at the Lok Sabha elections in 1984, when the BJP fought the first voting battle, the turnout of non-congress and non-BJP parties reached an all-time high of 52.6% in 2009. It fell by almost ten percentage points by 2019. While part of the fall is explained by the decline of the left, the rise of political Hindutva has also contributed to this phenomenon. The biggest example of this was seen in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, despite being in an alliance, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party could not prevent the BJP from sweeping Uttar Pradesh again. In many other states, the BJP has been successful in usurping regional movements and parties, giving it a religious color; Assam Gana Parishad and the All Assam Students Union in Assam are examples. Whether or not the AITC survives the BJP attack is the biggest question as we end 2020.
Source: TCPD, Indian Electoral Commission