Twenty-eighteen hasn’t been the best year for the Bharatiya Janata Party.

First, it was a near miss-turned-win in Amit Shah’s bastion Gujarat, followed by a surprise defeat in Karnataka, in spite of having the largest share of seats. The year ended with the bouquet of three crucial Hindi heartland states – Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan - being taken away from under its feet at one go. 

But among all this, there’s a reason for the BJP to cheer in Bengal. A state, where till recently the BJP was seen as a party of outsiders, has undoubtedly emerged as the biggest opponent of Mamata Banerjee’s TMC. 

When the TMC swept to power, it was the Modi Sarkar of 2014: riding on a tsunami. Today, Mamata is still the ‘ghorer meye’ (lady of the land) but is questioned at every step, thanks to the saffron party. This year may be BJP’s anti-incumbency across India, but 2018 has also been BJP’s rise and rise in Bengal.

Politics is shaped by events that have a lasting sentimental impression on society. MyNation looks back at the year gone by and examines the three main events that defeated the logic of gravity when it comes to the BJP in Bengal.

Bloody panchayat polls

Panchayat Polls has never been a big deal in Bengal. Even when the Left was in power, it tried to intimidate the Opposition but didn’t go out of its way to stop them from submitting a nomination. So didn’t the TMC in its first 5 years. Why? Because it need not have to. The Opposition was so disorganised, crumbled and disillusioned, that giving a strong fight has always been a distant dream. For the first time, Bengal panchayat polls turned this bloody. So much so, that in more than 30% of the seats, TMC won unopposed. This was not because the Opposition didn’t file nominations, but because they were either attacked, killed or abducted to restrain them from doing so. And in 90% of the case, that Opposition has been the BJP. 

There was a ground-swelling for the saffron party that the TMC sensed could spell doom if a ‘free and fair’ election is allowed. Every second day, national television channels openly aired scenes of violence and intimidation; even Union minister Babul Supriyo was attacked in his own constituency when he was escorting a BJP candidate to a nomination centre. This happened in spite of there being paramilitary precedes around Supriyo. 

The results were equally surprising. The BJP had a clean sweep in the Purulia district, making considerable inroads in tribal Jhargram and Bankura. What followed, were instances of BJP cadres being found mysteriously dead, and it was alleged to be ‘political killings’ by the TMC. The TMC blatantly dismissed it. But the strong resistance and an even stronger fight to the TMC’s stature by the BJP was evident. By May 2018, the BJP was no longer a party of ‘outsiders’ for Bengal.

Ram Navami and Durga visarjan row

Ram Navami was an alien concept to the social milieu of Bengal. I have been born and brought up in Bengal but have never heard of it till 2017, when a rush of men, women, even children clad in Lord Ram’s attire and smeared in saffron took to the streets. The penetration was so palpable that it was organised at every block level. Though the BJP had nothing to do with this directly, they were organised by Hindu Jagruti Samiti, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, etc., who shares the same ideology as that of the BJP. No wonder the 2018 Ram Navami turned out to be huge. Sensing that it no longer can be crushed by use of force, Mamata told her party cadres to organise its ‘own version’ of Ram Navami, a complete U-turn by a party that has gained notoriety of being a pro-minority party in public perception, thanks to the BJP’s incessant campaign.

Durga Puja traditionally ends on Dashami and the idols are generally immersed on that day itself. For two years in a row, the Mamata government created a ban on the immersion on Dashami, on grounds of ‘law and order’, as it coincided with Muharram. No doubt that the Bengali Hindus felt bad, but that’s about it. The BJP ensured that it becomes a rallying ground. And it did. The matter reached the Calcutta High Court where the state was questioned, and the BJP held a press conference in Delhi and Kolkata, where its cadres raised ‘awareness’ about an ‘anti-Hindu’ Mamata government. 

In both cases, Mamata lost the plot and the BJP emerged as a clear winner.

BJP’s ‘save democracy’ rath yatra

The three rath yatras that were supposed to criss-cross all 42 Lok Sabha constituencies of Bengal in presence of Amit Shah, didn’t get an okay from the Bengal government. The matter went to the Calcutta high court where the Mamata government cited an ‘intel report’ to object the rallies for reasons of ’communal tension’. It was then appealed in a division bench, where the BJP got a green signal. But the joy was short-lived as the bench quashed the order and sent it back to the single bench. Right now, the case is pending in the Supreme Court.

But the biggest takeaway from the case is how the TMC walked into the BJP’s trap. The BJP would not have gained one-third of the support for the rath yatra that it is now attracting, had it not been for the opposition of the TMC. The BJP played its cards smartly - being bullied for speaking for Hindus has once again clicked with the masses and the TMC just walked into it. Even now, many TMC cadres are sympathetic towards the BJP for being ‘harassed for raising issues that matter to a Hindu’.

Everything is fair in politics, even winning the war by losing battles. And that’s what the BJP is doing right now in Bengal. The minority votes, the loyal base for Mamata are slowly shifting back towards the CPIM, and the Hindu votes are slowly consolidating for the BJP. In a state where 30% Muslim consolidation has been the catch that both the CPIM and then the TMC eyed, and successfully snatched - the BJP is halfway through its goal of 70% Hindu vote consolidation.

Can Mamata undo the damage? Can the BJP continue to trick Mamata? Well, it’s for 2019 to decide. But the year that went by proves to be a success story for the BJP amid the gloom it suffered elsewhere.