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Jolted BJP Will Live to Fight Another Day, What of the Congress?

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Talk to any BJP Karyakarta for a minute and the sheer disappointment of not conquering the Bengal front is too palpable. The reason is not just that the party top leadership had made it such a high stakes battle. It's because the BJP-Sangh cadre had looked at it as a civilisational war and not a mere assembly poll. Vanquishing Mamata Bannerjee in Nandigram is a small consolation considering the Trinamool Congress romped back by with brute majority. By Sunday afternoon, web columnists and television panelists had already penned down why and how this was going to impact the Narendra Modi govt in the centre and change the over-all contours of national politics.

Jolted BJP Will Live to Fight Another Day, What of the Congress?

FULL THROTTLE WIN OR LOSE

The BJP fought West Bengal Assembly elections just like it fights every election. Full throttle. With all its electoral might and machinery. If anybody thinks Bengal was an exception, they need to go back just some weeks to the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation election campaign. It was a municipal poll.

The party did not win there too. But it made a pole-vault jump and is now a very close second to the ruling TRS. The Modi-Shah regime believes in incremental gains. It gives it's all even if winning is a remote possibility. The policy pays dividends at times, at others it does not. By now there have been dozens of such elections where political pundits have questioned the strategy of over 'exposing' the Prime Minister in state elections and what it means when they lose. Whether it is good strategy or bad, I can safely say that the BJP is not going to rethink on it. It will still fight each election as if it it's life depended on it. And if it loses, pull up its socks to fight the next one with the same vigour.

Mamata powers TMC to win in Bengal; BJP, LDF retain power in Assam, Kerala; DMK to form govt in TN Mamata powers TMC to win in Bengal; BJP, LDF retain power in Assam, Kerala; DMK to form govt in TN

READING ASSEMBLY POLLS RIGHT

Though they were a measly 3 in the last assembly, Bengal is certainly a jolt with the party below 80 as they were aiming far higher. This is also less than the total number of assembly segments it won in the 2019 Lok Sabha where it wrested nearly half the total seats. But that was a vote for Raisina and not Nabanna. Reading assembly votes right and convincing voters has always proved tougher for the party.

Some states tougher than others. Cut to the Bihar assembly elections in 2015. Everybody had predicted that the 2014 Lok Sabha was a black swan event propelled by multiple factors and that Modi had already lost his political capital. Without going into Nitish Kumar's change of heart, we may just say that the drubbing did not diminish BJP's hunger. It rather made them more determined. Even the losses in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhatisgarh couldn't reduce the party's gains in 2019. There were other elections as well in the interregnum.

NATIONAL RUMBLINGS

That certainly doesn't mean it will not cause national rumblings. The strategy to invest so much into every assembly poll, particularly in the thick of an unprecedented crisis, is already being questioned and criticized by commentators. It will embolden the opponents at the centre to pin the Bengal results to CORONA, whether it was or was not the reason. After all, TMC leaders campaigned as vigorously as the BJP did. There may also be an effort by other opposition leaders to rally around Mamata Bannerjee and pose a challenge to Modi-Shah in an outside Parliament.

WHERE DOES IT LEAVE THE CONGRESS ?

Mamata Bannerjee is now the most formidable opposition face. Her stature right now is akin to the aura Nitish Kumar enjoyed soon after 2015 Bihar assembly victory. As the strongest potential challenger to Modi. Then there was Arvind Kejriwal, Chandrababu Naidu and in softer voices even a Bhupesh Baghel.

The fact is the opposition rushes to clutch onto every face which appears to challenge Modi in any state.

So where does this leave the Congress and Rahul Gandhi?

From Bihar to Uttar Pradesh to Maharashtra to Delhi and now West Bengal, Congress has been strategically choosing not to fight in what appears to be a tactical move to strengthen regional satraps who can take on Modi. It has resulted in the decimation of the party in one state after another. The glee of the Congress spokespersons over Bengal on Sunday after the party's own erosion everywhere was a clear giveaway. For them the historic embarrassment of the incumbent LDF returning to power after Rahul Gandhi shifted to Wayanad to 'infuse new energy' to the Congress mattered less than the BJP not winning in Kolkata.

Contrast this with the measured, well articulated comment of Prashant Kishore, the strategist being credited with TMC's stunning return, who refused to see the results as a setback to BJP at the centre. In fact, he pointed out that the party would be a force to be reckoned with in Bengal now.

For the moment, the central BJP leadership needs to dedicate itself totally in mitigating the sufferings of the people while the Bengal leadership needs to worry about ensuring the safety of its cadres in the vengeful, violence ridden politics of the state. The burning BJP offices and murderous attacks on BJP workers even before nightfall are a trailer of what lies in store for them.

(Smita Mishra, Advisor Prasar Bharti)

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