The trends so far suggest the BJP has made massive gains in West Bengal, leading in 18 of the state’s 42 Lok Sabha seats. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress maintains a lead in 22 seats so far. It won 34 in 2014.
The Left Front has zero leads so far. The Left Front held power for 34 years in West Bengal, until it was routed by the Trinamool in 2011. Since then, it has slowly faded from the state, with many of its workers switching to the BJP.
In Odisha, a bastion of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal, the BJP looks set to improve its tally. It is leading in seven Lok Sabha seats. In 2014, it got only one of the state’s 21 seats. The Biju Janata Dal swept the rest.
In the assembly polls held simultaneously, the Biju Janata Dal, which is leading in 90 seats in the 147-member house, looks all set to form the state government for the fifth consecutive time.
But it is likely to win fewer seats than 2014, when it won 117 seats. The BJP leads in 23 seats, up from 10 seats in the previous assembly elections.
The BJP, which won 10 of the 24 seats in the North East along with its coalition partners in 2014, seems all set to increase its tally significantly. While it appears to have consolidated its gains in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, the party is on course to wrest the two seats in Tripura from the Left. Its alliance partners are also tipped to win a seat each in Mizoram and Meghalaya.
The importance of the East
West Bengal, Odisha and the seven states of the North East account for 87 Lok Sabha seats.
Poll predictions suggested the BJP will make major gains here. But on West Bengal and Odisha, at least, predictions varied by wide margins. Going by the exit polls, the lowest possible BJP tally in Bengal was three to five out of 42 seats, while the highest was 19-22 seats. In Odisha, which has 21 seats, estimates varied between zero to 14 seats for the BJP.
The two states are home to arguably the most powerful Opposition chief ministers. Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress has held sway over West Bengal since 2011. Patnaik has run the government in Odisha for four terms.
There was much speculation over whether the two leaders could halt the BJP juggernaut in the East. The trends so far show Patnaik has been able to hold his ground better than Banerjee.
A snapshot of elections over the last decade reflect the saffron party’s steady advance in the region.
In Bengal, the BJP opened its Lok Sabha account for the first time in 2014, winning two seats and 17.02% of the votes. This was a significant mark up of nearly 11% from the previous Lok Sabha polls. In the assembly elections of 2016, it won 10.16% of total votes polled, way behind the Trinamool’s 44.91%, the Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s 19.75% and the Congress’s 12.25%. But it was still a jump from the 4.06% it won in the assembly elections of 2011.
Over the last couple of years, as localised incidents of communal violence broke out across the West Bengal, the BJP appears to have made creeping gains in the state. The exit polls suggested it is slowly blotting out the Left and the Congress to become the main challenger to the Trinamool.
In Odisha, the BJP and the Biju Janata Dal were in an alliance at the state and central level from 1998 to 2008, but split soon after the Kandhamal communal riots. In 2009, the BJP won no seats in the Lok Sabha polls and just six out 147 seats in the assembly polls.
In 2014, it improved its tally to one and 10, respectively. The number of seats won, however, do not quite reflect the party’s vote share. The Biju Janata Dal swept 20 out of 21 Lok Sabha seats with a 44.8% voteshare while the BJP managed one seat but 21.9% of the voteshare.
This year, Patnaik, 72, was widely believed to have a tough fight on hand. While his popularity was largely intact, his party MLAs faced anti-incumbency. The BJP had mounted an aggressive campaign with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah making several visits to the state, to build on the party’s success in the Zilla Parishad elections of 2017.
In the North East, the BJP made its most spectacular gains in Assam. In 2009, it won four out of 14 seats. In 2014, this increased to seven, giving it the highest tally in a state that had traditionally been a Congress bastion. These were matched by rapid gains in vote share – in 2014, it increased by over 19% to clock in 36.5%. Two years later, the BJP swept the assembly elections of 2016, forming its first ever government in Assam.
Last year, however, protests broke out over the Modi government’s proposed Citizenship (Amendment) Bill and the BJP’s ally, the Assam Gana Parishad, walked out of the coalition government. But the Bill lapsed and the two parties reunited in March. Ground reports suggest the BJP largely regained its popularity in Upper Assam constituencies which were the epicentre of the protests.
Other states in the North East
Across the region, the BJP’s success has been buttressed by alliances. In 2014, it did not have significant presence in any state government. Since then, it has formed government in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur and Tripura. It is part of the ruling alliance in Meghalaya and Nagaland.
After protests against the Citizenship Bill spread across the North East, several irate regional allies threatened to break rank. But in the event of a good performance by the BJP nationally, the political map of the North East is likely to remain unchanged.