Mamata Banerjee's new challenger

Jun 25 2014, 12:35 IST
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SummaryOpposition space is vacant in West Bengal. BJP aims to move in

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, West Bengal witnessed a massive surge in the BJPs vote share 16.8 per cent, from about 6 per cent in 2009. The party finished third, close on the heels of the CPM, which managed a vote share of 22.7 per cent. The BJP bagged as many as 2,47,461 votes in Kolkata North, compared to 37,044 in 2009, 2,95,376 votes in Kolkata South, compared to 39,744 five years back, and 2,16,180 votes in Maldaha Dakshin. In some of the seats where it placed third, it had lost second place by a narrow margin of around 50,000 votes. Mention may be made of Alipurduar, where the margin is of about 5,000 votes, of Barrackpore, where it is about 42,000 votes, and of Howrah, where the CPM got only 43,000 votes more than the BJP. These are the areas where the party could do well in the next assembly elections and pose a challenge to the TMC and the CPM. There is also reportedly a rapid rise in BJP membership. For the first time, the BJP has emerged as a party to be reckoned with in Bengal, and it shows signs of becoming the major opposition force in the state.

The BJP has won Lok Sabha seats in Bengal on only three occasions. First, in 1998 (Dumdum), and then in 1999 (Dumdum and Krishnanagar). On both occasions, the party was in alliance with the TMC. The third time was in 2009, when the party won the Darjeeling seat with the backing of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha. But the party failed to get a substantial vote share in the seats it could not win. In 1991, it managed a vote share of 11 per cent but could not win any seats. So the BJPs electoral impact in West Bengal has traditionally been limited. The partys rising graph became visible about two years ago. In the 2012 Lok Sabha by-elections in Jangipur, Murshidabad, the BJP emerged third and polled 85,867 votes, an 8 per cent rise from 2009. The municipal polls of 2013 also reflected an improved performance by the BJP. A major breakthrough was the defeat of the incumbent mayor, a Left candidate, by the BJP in the Howrah municipal polls. In the 2014 by-elections to the Vidhan Sabha, the party finished third with 13.2 per cent votes. That the BJP could contest all 42

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