As 2020 draws to a close, West Bengal, although Assembly elections will not take place until April-May 2021, has become the most watched political theater. Things weren’t much different 10 years ago. At the time, it was the Left Front government led by the 34-year-old Communist Party of India (CPI-M) whose future was at stake in an aggressive Trinamool Congress (AITC). Today it is TIAC who must take up the challenge of surviving the political challenge of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). As ironic as it may sound, the rise of the BJP in the state has been aided by a large-scale shift of CPI-M supporters to the former. The history of West Bengal, in a way, is symptomatic of how politics have taken a decisive right turn in India over the past 10 years. Here are four charts that put that in perspective.
1. From existential crisis to new hegemony: the decade of the return of the BJP
After a shock defeat in the 2004 elections, the BJP fought the 2009 elections with Lal Krishna Advani as candidate for prime minister. The party managed to win just 116 seats from Lok Sabha, its worst performance since the 1991 polls. The BJP alone failed to win any major assembly elections in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Things have gone wrong. started to improve after the 2011 Anna Hazare anti-corruption movement took a huge blow to the popularity of Congress. By the time Narendra Modi won his third term as Chief Minister of Gujarat in December 2012, things had changed. The BJP repeated its victories in major state polls in 2013 and became the first party since 1984 to secure its own majority in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. The fact that he improved his performance from 2014 to 2019 put an end to all doubts that he had become the new hegemony of Indian politics. Congress, on the other hand, has failed to pull itself together at the national level and is still haunted by the ghosts of the Anna movement of 2011.
2. Mirror image of the elevation of the right: a gaunt left
In 2010, Communist Parties ran governments in three states: West Bengal, Kerala, and Tripura. While the Communists in Kerala may be relieved by the results of the recently concluded local elections – they are making the Left Democratic Front led by the CPI (M) the front runner in Assembly polls next year – the left has suffered from serious setbacks in West Bengal and Tripura. In these states, it was the right that devoured the left, albeit in a different way. In Bengal, the left started to lose its base of support to the BJP from 2014, a process that only gained momentum in 2019. In Tripura, when the Left Front lost to the BJP in the 2018 Assembly polls, BJP and CPI (M) were almost neck and neck in share of the vote. But, in the 2019 election, the IPC (M) was relegated to a distant third, with Congress making a comeback as the BJP’s closest rival. Thanks to a rout in West Bengal and Tripura and a single siege in Kerala, the left recorded its worst performance in 2019.
3. Political Alteration of Muslims: Modus Vivendi of the New India
If there is one fact that defines the rise of the BJP as the dominant political force over the past 10 years, it is its policy of altering Muslims, who make up over 14% of the 1.3 billion population. from India. The current regime has successfully directed the three fundamental issues of building a Ram temple in Ayodhya, the revocation of section 370 which granted special status to predominantly Muslim Jammu and Kashmir; and the criminalization of the Muslim practice of Triple Talaq. Hindutva has taken the envelope further with issues such as the (political) boxing of the National Citizens Register with a Citizenship Amendment Act; which includes citizens of all major religions in India except Muslims or recent laws against inter-communal marriage in the name of preventing so-called jihad in love. This rhetoric was accompanied in praxis by the fact that the BJP presented very few Muslim candidates in all elections and by a sharp drop in the share of Muslim deputies in the Lok Sabha in 2014 and 2019. Certainly, the share of Muslim deputies in Lok Sabha were lowest in the 1962 election, not in 2019.
4. Surviving the era of Hindu consolidation: the biggest challenge for any third political alternative
The decade of the 1990s and 2000s was the age of coalition politics in India. Even though the country had a BJP Congress or Prime Minister for most of this period, they depended on other parties for survival. Looking at Lok Sabha’s elections since 1984, when the BJP fought its first electoral battle, the share of votes from non-congressional and non-BJP parties reached an all-time high of 52.6% in 2009. This has dropped by almost ten percent. points by 2019. While part of the fall can be explained by a shrinking of the left, the rise of the political Hindutva had also contributed to this phenomenon. The biggest example of this was seen in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections when, despite their alliance, the Samajwadi party and the Bahujan Samaj party were unable to stop the BJP from sweeping Uttar Pradesh again. In many other states, the BJP has succeeded in usurping regional movements and parties by giving it a religious flavor; Examples are Assam Gana Parishad and the Union of Students of Assam in Assam. The bigger question is whether TIAC will survive the BJP onslaught at the end of 2020.
Source: TCPD, Election Commission of India