Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) national general secretary and in-charge of West Bengal, Kailash Vijayvargiya says the BJP‘s performance in the high octane election has not been disappointing. Vijayvargiya, who has been camping in the state for the last seven years, steering the party‘s campaign, told HT in an interview that though the BJP has failed to form government in the state it has made significant gains by emerging as a formidable Opposition. Edited excerpts:
You fought a pitched battle in West Bengal for which you had been preparing for several years now. What went wrong for the BJP?
The BJP lost because the Congress and the CPM completely surrendered to the TMC. They did not fight the election and destroyed themselves to stop the BJP, so it became a bipolar contest between the BJP and the TMC. Mamata Banerjee wrote to all the parties to unite against the BJP, NCP’s Sharad Pawar play a lead role in this. The parties coming together was evident when Rahul Gandhi, on the pretext of the pandemic, decided not to campaign, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury decided to quarantine as did many leaders in the CPM.
Another reason is that the Muslim vote was totally polarised. While we were being accused of polarising the election, it was Mamata Banerjee who appealed to the Muslims to come together.
…But the BJP too was trying to consolidate the Hindu votes. The overtures towards the socially marginalised communities were made with that intent.
The Bengali sentiments and the whole imagery of Mamata Banerjee on a wheelchair seem to have created sympathy among the women voters. A large chunk of the women voting for the TMC was another reason (for the BJP not winning.)
What about the lack of local leadership? You did not have a face to take on Mamata Banerjee.
Among the reasons for the loss… this could be one, I won’t deny that. The other reason can be that Mamata Banerjee’s leadership was towering and we could not project a local leader (as a challenger to her).
BJP is accused of not having built a cadre in the state and relying on turncoats.
We have our cadre in almost 80% of the polling booths. The 38% of the total votes that we polled is because of that cadre on the ground. We have created a space for ourselves in Bengal. It is no small achievement to become the single largest party in Opposition in the state. We have filled a vacuum in the state. It is true that we did not form the government but we have gained a lot. Our performance is not disappointing, our vote share is good and our overall seat tally has improved. If you examine the voting pattern, you will see the state is left with only two parties now.
The BJP has been accused of running a negative campaign in the state and making personal remarks against the CM. Instead of focusing on issues of development the party chose to make the Jai Shri Ram chant the pivot of its campaigning. What would you say to that?
It is not true; we had a very positive campaign narrative and we focused on the development of the state. Look at our election manifesto; look at the pamphlets that we distributed in houses across the state where we spoke about our agenda of development for West Bengal. Of course, we also spoke about the corruption in the state, the coal scam etc., because these things need to be told as well. We spoke about the need for quality education and industrialisation in the state. The negative bits get more attention.
Polarisation of the Muslim votes happened because of Mamata Banerjee. Jai Shri Ram is not the mantra for polarisation, it is a chant that is raised at all BJP programmes.
The BJP used to say that the outcome of the Bengal election will have a nationwide ramification and set the tone for other states as well. Are you worried about a fallout in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and other upcoming polls?
If you look at it over all, the BJP’s performance is not disappointing. We have gained a lot in West Bengal. Five years ago, with just three MLAs, we were not even visible in West Bengal. But now, we are a mainstream party in the state that was a Left bastion, where the Congress and the TMC were strong. We have created a big space for ourselves. We are the party of the future. And there will be no impact of the WB polls on others states. Bengal’s ethos, its culture and politics are all different.
Hum haar ke bhi jeete hain (we have won even though we have lost). We had high expectations which we did not meet; otherwise we have not lost anything. We have not formed the government, but we have carved a space in the hearts of the people. We are not disappointed. By emerging as the largest Opposition party, we have an assurance that we are the party of the future
The BJP leadership continued to hold rallies at a time when the pandemic was raging. Do you think that had an impact on your performance?
The pandemic was not raging when the election was declared. And once an election is scheduled and declared, there is a process to be followed. It is the fundamental right of a candidate to campaign, how can we club different phases? The Election Commission (EC) could have taken a call to not have elections, but how can phases be clubbed?
Mamata Banerjee has accused the EC of playing a partisan role. She said it acts like an arm of the BJP.
This is her refrain. She’s always accusing the courts and the central agencies of siding with the BJP. Is there an example that the EC did not cooperate with her but cooperated with us? If they (TMC leaders) were forbidden from campaigning, so were we. If she goes to the court, what will she present as evidence?
Who will be the Leader of the Opposition?
A decision will be taken once the Parliamentary board and the legislative party meet.