West Bengal Assembly Election : Psephologist’s NightMare

Anindya Sengupta

Assembly elections for four states, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Assam and West Bengal and the union territory of Puducherry is scheduled to take place in the coming weeks. A lot has been discussed and debated about the potential verdict of the election in different states. The election for West Bengal becomes of utmost importance because it is the state where the party ruling in the country has put all its weight to pull off a win. While majority of the opinion polls suggested a win for the ruling Trinamool Congress ( TMC), there are a few which hinted a change in power with Bharatiya Janata Party ( BJP) predicted to come to power. These are not the only two forces, there is also Sanjukta Morcha, an alliance of the Left, Congress and the newly formed Indian Secular Front ( ISF) which is also a force to reckon with.

What’s the Ground Reality as of today ?

Before we jump into the factors that are in play for this years election, let us look back on what was the situation in the earlier elections. In the last assembly elections in 2016, the Trinamool Congress secured 44.9% votes with 211 seats. The Left and Congress had an alliance for the election. The alliance got 37.9% vote with 77 seats. BJP got 10.16% vote with 3 seats. A lot of water has flown by since then. In the 2019 Loksabha elections, the TMC secured 43.6% votes. The BJP saw a huge jump in their vote share and got 40.6% votes. The Left and the Congress fought the elections separately. The combined vote share of them was around 13%.

The period between 2019 and 2021

The last election data available is as of 2019. A lot has changed on the ground since then. One of the most important things that has happened after 2019 is the passing of citizenship amendment act (CAA) in the parliament and its potential implementation. Bengal being a border state, there is expectedly a huge impact of this kind of act which deals with citizenship status.

The world has been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. India went into a stringent lockdown because of this pandemic. The migrant workers suffered massively during this lockdown. A lot of the migrant workers walked thousands of kilometers to go back to their native town. No transportation was available and even when trains started running many state government were not keen to take them back. West Bengal has a significant population of migrant workers who work across different states of the country. Many of them lost their jobs and had to go through huge amount of hardships.

Moreover the small and medium enterprises suffered badly during this lockdown. The economic growth of the country hit a historical low of -23.9% for the first quarter of Financial year, 2019-20. A vast majority of Bengal population is employed in the small and medium enterprises. So this is also likely to have a significant in the upcoming elections.

Over and above the lockdown, Bengal also witnessed a super cyclone storm, Amphan. It was one of the strongest storms to ever hit India. At least 86 people died in West Bengal; most of the fatalities were due to electrocution or the collapse of homes. The state government estimated that the storm caused at least 1.02 trillion (US$13.5 billion) in damage and directly affected 70 percent of the state’s population. There has been a lot of allegations of corruption in terms of the relief measures and this might have a significant impact in the election – mainly against the ruling party in the state (Trinamool Congress).

Several of the political factors have also changed since 2019. There has been a huge exodus of senior leaders from TMC to BJP. A couple of leaders also moved from Left and Congress to BJP. The other important factor is the emergence of Indian Secular Front ( ISF) which is a rainbow combination of different Adivasi ( Indigenous people) , Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe and Muslim organizations. Also another important change from 2019 is that this time Left and Congress are fighting the election with a pre poll alliance. ISF is also part of the alliance.

There has been a significant price rise of essential commodities like cooking gas, cooking oil, petrol and diesel in the run up to the elections. Being daily essentials, this price hike is also likely to have an impact on the voting pattern.

Another major factor that might impact is the continuing fight of farmers against the farm laws passed in the parliament which according to the farm unions benefits big corporates. The center however argues that this will be beneficial for the farmers.

What can happen in this election?

First of all 2019 was a parliamentary election and this time it is an assembly elections. So the voting pattern will be different for sure. Odhisa had both parliamentary and assembly elections together in the same time. Still it witnessed a significant difference in the vote share of the leading parties across the two type of election.

So a lot has happened between 2019 and 2021. It remains to be seen how this will impact the voting pattern in the assembly elections. There might be multiple factors that will come in play. Let us base our study on the vote share of the parties in the 2019 elections. Now each party will naturally retain a portion of votes they got in 2019 again in 2021 and they will also lose a portion of votes as compared to the base period. The portion of votes they loose will be a key factor determining the outcome of the elections. The loss from one party will be a gain of others.

So we have three major players for this election, namely, TMC, BJP and Sanjukta Morcha ( alliance of LEFT, Congress and ISF). Lets analyze what are factors that can determine the size of the loss of votes for each parties.

Factor 1: Impact of Lockdown:

As mentioned above, there is a sizeable portion of population in West Bengal who are migrant workers working in rest of the states of the country and who were widely impacted by the lockdown. Moreover given the grim impact on small and medium enterprises, people working in these sectors have suffered income loss during the lockdown period. Many had lost work also. Now this might lead people to blame both the central and state governments for many of the situation as there had been a lot of confusion which happened because of the sudden announcement of the lockdown by the central government and also the help that both central government and state government provided. Moreover in Bengal during this time political parties had planned a lot of relief measures to support people. The sromojibi (labour) canteen organized by LEFT parties has spread across different parts of the state. There were some measures taken by other parties also.

So as a impact of this there will be a section of people who will feel that central government have failed while state government acted well. Now some of the people in this segment might have voted for BJP in 2019. A portion of these people might decide to vote for TMC instead.

There will also be a section which will fill vice versa. They might fell that state government has failed but the central government have done a good job handling the aftermath of the lockdown. Now some of the people in this segment might have voted for TMC in 2019. A portion of these people might decide to vote for BJP instead.

Then there will be a section who might be unhappy with both the central and state government with the way of handling of the aftermath. Some of them would have voted for BJP while others would have voted for TMC in 2019. A portion of these might decide to vote against both the parties and vote for the 3rd alternative i.e. Sanjukta Morcha.

Factor 2 : cyclone Amphan Impact

There has been a lot of controversy about the relief provided during Amphan. A lot of allegations were there in terms of corruptions against the ruling party in the state (TMC). These will lead to a section of voters who voted for TMC in 2019 go against them. Both BJP and Sanjukta Morcha could gain as a result. There are a lot of other factors that will determine this split.

Moreover many political leaders and organizations have lead serious and focused effort on providing relief. This will have a positive impact and will attract vote for their parties from other parties.

Then there were relief provided by both center and state governments and as explained in the impact of lockdown this will also drive movement of votes from one party to other.

Source: ESL Brains

Factor 3: Assembly and Parliamentary election difference

This is a huge factor. If we look at BJP’s share of votes across states. It will be seen that BJP typically gets more votes in parliamentary election than in assembly elections. This is attributed to the fact that they have a face at the center. But in many states they don’t have face and the trust on local leaders is less than that on central leaders. The loss of votes of BJP might go to both TMC and Sanjukta morcha. The proportion of this split is again dependent on many factors.

In the parliamentary election ( 2019) it became a two way fight. There was some kind of polarization that happened between TMC and BJP. So the people who had voted for BJP where mainly disgusted against TMC. So in that case people who will not vote to BJP now as this is an assembly election, are likely to vote against TMC and vote for the Sanjukta Morcha.

Factor 4: Anti Incumbency

This is again a huge factor. TMC has been in power for ten years and definitely there has been a significant anti incumbency on ground as expected. There are many reasons to it like the anger due to bad handling during Amphan and lockdown which is already discussed under factor 1 and 2. Then there can be other factors like job creation, law and order, area specific issues leading to anti incumbency. It can be argued that majority of them might already have voted against TMC in 2019 and so there will not be any significant additional lost. But as discussed two years is a big time and there can be a portion who voted for TMC in 2019 might vote against them and choose from BJP and Sanjukta Morcha. The handling of the lockdown and post cyclone Amphan are two aspects which can potentially lead to penalization of the ruling state government/party.

Factor 5 : Changing political parties of leaders

As mentioned above a significant number of senior leaders have shifted from TMC to BJP and a few have also shifted from Left and Congress to BJP. This can have two kind of impact. One it can bring in vote share directly from the rest of the parties to BJP as these leaders will have a support base and organization base in their respective areas. Second it can also negatively impact BJP as the voters who are angry against TMC may be due to Factor 1, 2 and 4 and had voted for BJP in 2019, might fill that same TMC people have joined BJP and this might led them to vote against BJP and vote for TMC. Moreover the vote that TMC was losing from 2019 due to factor 1, 2 and 4 might now see a higher proportion move to Sanjukta Morcha and less to BJP as the same TMC leaders with whom the people are angry have joined BJP.

Factor 6: The alliance of Left, Congress and ISF

As mentioned above, this time there is an alliance between Left, Congress and ISF. This can also have two kinds of impact. One, with the alliance there will be a general increase of strength for all the three parties in the alliance and can attract votes from both BJP and TMC to Sanjukta Morcha. Second there would be voters who voted for Left and Congress separately in 2019, might decide not to vote for them just because of their hatred towards the other parties in the alliance.

Factor 7: Impact of Citizenship Act and aftermath

There can be multiple impacts of the citizenship acts and its aftermath. There will be a portion who might feel that they will gain from this act and decide to vote for BJP. Now the desire to implement such act was already in the agenda of BJP in 2019 parliamentary elections. So a sizeable portion of people who might feel they would be benefited by such act might already have voted for BJP in 2019. So it may not be a new gain.

But such act also has raised a fear in the minds of a section that this act may go against them. Some of them might have voted for BJP in 2019 ( unlikely as it was part of manifesto in 2019). So it may not be a new loss for BJP.

Factor 8 : Impact of Farm Bill

This also can be a major issue of the election. There is a continuous movement of farmers against the farm bills for last four months now. Here also there will be a section who might have voted for BJP in 2019, but might fill that these farm laws will be against farmers and impact them badly, they might vote against BJP and vote for either TMC or Sanjukta Morcha.

There will be also a section which might fill that this laws will be beneficial and they might have voted against BJP in 2019. Some of them might vote for BJP.

Also there has been a lot of disinvestments planned and announced by the central government. There were plans of disinvestments almost in every sector. Now West Bengal historically has seen a lot of its formal sector work force working in government owned enterprises and banks. So there can be a section of those people who might had voted for BJP in 2019. But this time they might decide to vote against them.

Conclusion

We discussed 8 factors , but there are likely to be many more. Moreover there are many sub factors and area specific factors that can come in play. With so many moving parts it can be said that there can be significant shift of votes from each party to other parties during this election. Now how will this impact the overall vote share of the party or alliance, will determine on the strength of each of the factors discussed above. With so many variables in this election, this is a nightmare for any psephologist to predict the verdict accurately.

We have to wait for 2nd May to see how each of these factors impacted the voting pattern and what is the final verdict.

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