WB post poll analysis: Saffron fades as one heads South along the Bangladesh border

Written by Deborah Grey | Published on: June 4, 2019
Sabrang India has discovered that even though the BJP has made some serious headway in West Bengal, its emergence in parliamentary constituencies along the Bangladesh border throws up an interesting pattern. While the BJP has won in the northern constituencies, it has lost in all but two of the southern ones. Also, while a split in the secular vote is responsible for the BJP victories, TMC has summarily trounced its opponents obtaining huge winning margins in the southern constituencies along the border.

West bengal

We have been conducting post poll analyses of voting patterns in different states across India and if the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) coveted one state the most, it was West Bengal. Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well as BJP president Amit Shah made more visits to this state than even their own home state of Gujarat! The party cadres also worked towards not only mobilising voters, but also keeping their rival TMC cadres on their toes. Their efforts paid off and the BJP improved its tally in the state from a measly 2 in 2014, to 17 in 2019!

But what was even more surprising was how the party won seats in several communally sensitive regions along the border with Bangladesh, especially in light of Amit Shah’s statement suggesting minority populations in the region comprised infiltrators who were like termites. While there are whispered allegations of CPI (M) cadres working to support BJP candidates, one cannot ignore the three and often even four cornered contests in some of the constituencies. The votes won by INC candidates were often greater than or equal to the difference between the BJP and TMC’s candidates. CPI (M) candidates have also won large chunks of the vote in many constituencies.

But it is interesting to note, that though the BJP won the northern constituencies along the border, the further south we go, the vote became progressively anti-BJP. Also, although many of the BJP victories have been due to the splitting of the secular vote, the TMC victories are more decisive with wider margins. Let us have a look at how the border constituencies, which have significant minority or tribal populations, voted. We examine them from North to South.

BJP wins in three cornered electoral battles in the northern border constituencies:
Cooch Behar: In this constituency BJP’s Nisith Pramanik won, mainly due to the division of the ‘secular’ vote. Cooch Behar voted in the very first phase of the elections and Pramanik won 7,31,591 or 47.98 percent of the votes. TMC’s Paresh Chandra Adhikary was close at his heels with 6,77,363 or 44.43 percent of the votes. Had All India Forward Block’s Gobind Chandra Ray (46,810) and INC’s Piya Roy Choudhury (28,215) not played spoilsport, TMC could have won this constituency. 

Alipurduars: John Barla of the BJP secured 7,50,804 or a whopping 54.4 percent of the votes here, leaving behind TMC’s Dashrath Tirkey who won 5,06,815 or 36.72 percent of the votes. Barla, an Adivasi, interestingly started sporting a saffron turban ever since he filed his nomination papers. He told The Statesman, “I never wore such ‘pagri; on my head before. My supporters made me wear this on the day I went to submit my nomination papers at the Alipurduar district election commission office, and I decided to wear it all the time during my election campaigns. I am an adivasi by caste and a pagri can attract attention of the voters.” This appears to be doubly disturbing as it not only exoticises an Adivasi, but also saffronises his identity for greater acceptance.

Jalpaiguri: Even here the secular vote got divided between TMC, CPI (M), INC and the BSP. While BJP’s Dr Jaynta Kumar Roy won 7,60,145 or 50.65 percent of the votes, TMC’s Bijoy Chandra Barman who won 5,76,141 or 38.39 percent of the votes would have had a fighting shot had others like CPI (M) candidate Bhagiratha Chandra Roy (76,166), INC’s Mani Kumar Darnal (28,562) and BSP’s Jiban Krishna Majumar (8,134) not cut into his vote share. This shows that this constituency had a large number of secular voters, but was lost to the BJP only because the opposition parties failed to unite and come up with a joint strategy.  

Darjeeling: In this constituency voters gave BJP’s Raju Bista a decisive mandate with close to 60 percent of the vote. Even the combined votes won by the INC’s Sanakar Malakar (65,186), CPI (M)’s Saman Pathak (50,524) and the TMC’s Amar Singh Rai (3,36,624) would fall miserably short of his huge lead. This wasn’t completely unexpected though given how the Bimal Gurung faction of the Gorkhaland Janmukti Morcha as well as the Gorkhaland Nationa Liberation Front, both supported the BJP candidate, who interestingly doesn’t even belong to the state. Raju Bista is from Manipur! Meanwhile, he BJP for itself had only mentioned in its manifesto that that it would recognise 11 sub-tribes of Gorkhas as Scheduled Tribes, conveniently skirting around the wider Gorkhaland issue. But it remains to be seen if the matter would be allowed to fester and tensions will boil over once again like in 2017 when 14 people were killed and normal life completely thrown out of gear during a violent 104 day strike.

Raiganj: Even in this constituency the TMC candidate lost because a large chunk of the secular vote went to the CPI (M) and the INC. BJP’s Debashree Chaudhuri won 5,11,652 or just over 40 percent of the votes. TMC’s Kanaiala Agrawal wasn’t far behind with 4,51,078 or approximately 35 percent of the vote. But the CPI (M)’s Mohammed Salim took away 1,82,035 votes, while INC’s Deepa Dasmunshi chipped away 83,662. Has the secular parties played it smart and thrown their support behind one consensus candidate, BJP would have found it harder to win this constituency.

Balurghat: It was an extremely tight race in Balurghat. While BJP’s Sukanta Majumdar won 5,39,317 votes, TMC’s Arpita Ghose was snapping at his heels with 5,06,024 votes! The gap was wafer thin and this is where the votes won by Revolutionary Socialist Party’s Ranen Barman (72,990) and the INC’s Abdus Sadek Sarkar (36,783) could have made all the difference.

Lines begin to blur in the two Maldahas:
Maldaha Uttar: The parliamentary constituency is often wrongly associated with the communal riots that took place in Kaliachak in 2016. But that region is actually located in the Maldaha Dakshin parliamentary constituency. Maldaha Uttar covers the assembly segments of Maldaha, Habibpur, Gazole, Chanchal, Harishchandrapur, Malatipur and Rauta. Of these the last four have majority Muslim populations. The candidates here also have an interesting background. Mausam Noor, who was elected MP in 2009 and 2014 was a member of the Congress. But she switched over to the TMC in January 2019. Noor ended up winning 4,25,236 votes. But the INC fielded her cousin Isha Khan Choudhry who won 3,05,270 votes. BJP’s Khagen Mumru gained in this three cornered contest and won 5,09,525 votes. The CPI (M)’s Bishwanath Ghosh also won 50,401 votes. Given the thin margins, it could have been anybody’s game in this constituency.

Maldaha Dakshin: This is the constituency where communal tensions had boiled over in the Kaliachak in January 2016. A protest march, against derogatory remarks about Prophet Mohammed allegedly made by Hindu Mahasabha leader Kamlesh Tiwari, had turned violent. The rampaging mob ransacked a police station, a block development office and destroyed public property including government and police vehicles. Since then, this region has remained under the scanner for it communal sensitivity. In the 2019 general elections, INC’s Abu Hashem Khan Chowdhury won by a very narrow margin in a three cornered fight with the BJP and the TMC. While Chowdhury got 4,44,270 vote, BJP’s Shreerupa Mitra Chaudhury was close at his heels with 4,36,048 and TMC’s Mohammed Moazzem Hussain got 3,51,353 votes. With such a thin margin, this constituency perhaps had the least predictable electoral outcome and it could have been anybody’s game.

Tide begins to turn as one heads south:
Jangipur:  TMC’s Khalilur Rahaman scored a decisive victory here winning 5,62,838 or 43.15 percent of the votes. Even the BJP’s Mafuja Khatun (3,17,056) and INC’s Abhijeet Mukherjee (2,55,836) came nowhere close! CPI (M)’s Dr. Mohammed Zulfikar Ali also scored an impressive 95,501 votes.

Murshidabad: The TMC also won this constituency, leaving all rivals far behind. TMC’s Abu Taher Khan won 6,04,346 or 41.57 percent of the votes. The second highest number of votes went to the INC with Abu Hena winning 3,77,929 or 26 percent of the votes. BJP’s Humayun Kabir was summarily trounced winning only 2,47,809 or 17.05 percent of the votes and CPI (M)’s Badaruddoza Khan got 1,80,793 or 12.44 percent of the votes.  

Krishnanagar: TMC’s Mahua Moitra clinched a decisive victory leaving the BJP trailing behind in this constituency. Moitra won 6,14,872 or 45 percent of the votes. BJP’s Kalyan Chaubey was close at her heels with 5,51,654 or 40.37 percent of the votes. Even the CPI (M)’s Shantanu Jha could not play spoilsport despite winning 1,20,222 votes.

Ranaghat: This is one of the only two constituencies along the southern stretch of the West Bengal – Bangladesh border where the BJP won. BJP’s Jagannath Sarkar won a whopping 7,83,253 or 52.78 percent of the votes. His closest contender was TMC’s Rupali Biswas with 5,49,825 or 37.05 percent of the votes. CPI (M) Biswas Rama got the third largest share with 97,771 or a measly 6.59 percent. The BJP’s victory here was a decisive one and not due to a fractured secular vote.

Bangaon: In this constituency again the BJP won by a margin of over one lakh votes! BJP’s Shantanu Thakur won 6,87,622 or 48.85 percent of the votes, leaving his closest contender TMC’s Mamata Thakur trailing with 5,76,028 votes. CPI (M)’s Alakesh Das seems to have taken away 90,122 votes, a significant chunk that would have ensured a tighter contest.

Bashirhat: In this constituency TMC’s Nusrat Jahan left everyone else behind by a wide margin of over 3,50,000 votes! She won 7,82,078 or 54.56 percent of the votes. The actor is the youngest MP elected this year and her closest contender in the constituency, BJP’s Sayantan Basu, trailed far behind with 4,31,709 votes. This was a decisive victory for the TMC with a huge margin.

Jaynagar: Here TMC’s Pratima Mondal summarily trounced BJP’s Dr. Ashok Kandary. While Mondal romped home with 7,61,202 votes, Kandary trailed far behind with 4,44,427 votes… a margin of more than 3 lakh votes!

Mathurapur: This is the southernmost constituency along the West Bengal – Bangladesh border and here too the TMC defeated the BJP with a wide margin of over 2 lakh votes! TMC’s Mohan Chaudhry won 7,26,828 votes, leaving BJP’s Shyamprasad halder trailing with 5,22,854 votes. Even here the CPI (M)’s candidate Dr. Sharat Chandra Halder won an impressive 92,417 votes to come in third.