West Bengal Results: Six Takeaways From The Mother Of All Electoral Battles

One more election season gone. Results are out and neither of the two national parties – the Congress and the BJP – has much to feel cheerful about. The national footprint of the former continues to shrink; the latter has big roadblocks in its expansion plans. The BJP’s gameplan to capture the East has run into the Mamata obstacle. Worse, it’s winning formula for elections appears to be losing potency. Here are a few takeaways from the just-concluded elections.

MONEY CAN’T BUY EVERYTHING: We are not talking about happiness here; it’s about election results. It can get you lawmakers, disgruntled leaders, including high-profile ones, media experts and even a chunk of the rank and file of a rival party, but not popular votes. Ordinary voters have a mind of their own, and it works in unpredictable ways. They can soak in a lot of money and freebies but still operate nimbly with independence while pressing that all-important button.

THE BEST LAID PLAN OF MICE AND MEN… Well, we know how it ends. BJP’s project West Bengal was a meticulously planned one, spanning over five years. The battle for the TMC bastion was both political and personal. It was one of prestige between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee. The BJP pulled all its (by now familiar) tricks out of the bag. Recall the defeaning surround noise its well-tuned ecosystem generates before every election, and the picture of instability in the enemy camp it seeks to send out to the world. We had the same script here too. Only the results did not follow the script. Someone must remind the party of the Law of Diminishing Returns.

ALL EGGS IN ONE BASKET: It is obvious that the BJP has been overdependent on Prime Minister Modi as a vote magnet, and in state elections in particular, the outcome of such dependence has been less than satisfactory for the party. As the party’s mascot and star campaigner, Modi has been the unique selling proposition for the BJP alright, but his appreciable efforts in every campaign appear just not enough without adequate backing from other party leaders and the organisation. The weakness gets exposed when the main rival has a strong leader with robust organisational strength. Naveen Patnaik in Odisha, Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi, Bhupesh Baghel in Chhattisgarh and, now Mamata Banerjee have resisted the Modi blitzkrieg without much fuss. The party must be acutely aware of the demerits in putting all eggs in one basket.

THE SOCIAL MEDIA GAME IS CHANGING: Till the other day, social media were considered the game-changer for the BJP. The party has an overwhelming presence in the new media, and over the years smartly managed to spin political narratives, harass rivals and influence popular mood. But things appear to be changing. The Right eco-system still dominates it, but others are catching up. And they are being clever. Their messaging is sparse, but it comes with certain sophistication, wit and intelligence. Juxtaposed with normally crude, tasteless and combative messaging of the Right, it stands out. It’s certain they will up their games sooner rather than later and rob the latter of it unique advantage.

THE PROBLEM WITH TURNCOATS: The BJP’s strategy to engineer defections from rivals in poll-bound states may be backfiring. While the apparent intents of this strategy is to rattle the opposition by introducing instability in their ranks and to confuse voters’ judgement, it could actually be introducing confusion in the BJP ranks more. The new imports have to be accommodated in the right positions. At times they may be thrust upon resentful party workers. If they are given tickets then it has to be at the expense of old party loyalists. Moreover, the electoral weight of the turncoat may not be the same without the backing of the earlier party when he is on his own.

POLITICAL PREDICTION: A GOOD JOKE: Political crystal-gazers appearing on television and other media are jokers. Since such a sweeping remark is bound to hurt egos and raise howls of protest, let’s throw ‘most’ into it. That would obfuscate the matter a bit and soothe ruffled egos.

There are many who made grand prediction of a BJP win in West Bengal and treated us to sumptuous theories over months. Now, well, there is nothing more to say. They obviously turned poll analysis into a joke. They somehow manage to embarrass themselves everytime. Would they please stop making predictions?

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