A backbencher in West Bengal politics, the BJP has signalled its arrival in a big way by displaying a stellar performance in the just-concluded Lok Sabha elections, seeking to change the political equations in the state. Not only did it bag the two prestigious seats of Darjeeling and Asansol, it also emerged second in three other seats of Kolkata South, Kolkata North and Maldaha South.
Above all, the party cashing in on pro-Narendra Modi sentiment has secured more than a 17% vote share, it's all-time best. The maximum it had got previously was 13% in 1991 on the back of the Ayodha Rath Yatra.
In the 2009 Lok Sabha election the party had secured just 6.15% votes. The party increased its vote share by eating into the voter base of the Left Front, in the process relegating the once-formidable force in West Bengal to a third spot.
Not surprisingly, the state and central leadership of the party are eyeing a close battle with the Trinamool Congress in the 2016 Assembly election to cement its position.
Political analysts feel that if the BJP maintains the momentum, the party could be able to change the four-decade-old political equations in the state. "The party's highest leadership has already conveyed to me that the party should build up on this performance with an eye on the 2016 Assembly polls in the state. The next Assembly poll will be fought between Mamata and BJP," BJP spokesperson in charge of Bengal Siddharth Nath Singh told PTI.
Singh, one of the main architects of BJP's good performance in the state, feels that the anti-Mamata votes will land in BJP's fold in the absence of the Left as a credible opposition force.
The CPI(M)-led Left Front is facing a crisis of political existence in Bengal, the vote share having dipped from 43.66% in the last Lok Sabha to 29% in 2014. The major chunk of its vote share has been eaten up by the BJP.
Since the 2011 Assembly polls, which witnessed change of guard, both the BJP and RSS have been making steady inroads in Bengal, especially rural parts of the state, which was reflected in several by-polls and municipal elections in the state in the last three years.
Modi's all-out attack against Banerjee during the election campaign helped the BJP consolidate anti-Mamata vote share. "In Bengal it has been either yes-Modi or no-Modi just like any other state. If Mamata had gained by consolidating the major share of No-Modi vote share, then BJP has been successful in consolidating the Yes Modi vote share including the anti-Mamata votes in the Left's kitty," political analyst Udayan Bandopadhya said.
BJP's spectacular rise can be gauged from the fact that the party had finished third in 29 seats out of 42 parliamentary constituencies in the state.
Most significantly, the party took a lead in 24 Assembly segments and emerged second in atleast 25 others, which might indicate things to come in the 2016 Assembly election. "BJP will build on this performance to become the principal opposition party in 2016 aided by Modi's development work," said Bandopadhya.
What came as a big surprise, BJP Kolkata South candidate Tathagata Roy maintained a lead in the Bhowanipore Assembly segment represented by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in the Assembly. The 24 Assembly segments where the BJP was in the lead are: Darjeeling, Kurseong, Kalimpong, Matigara Naxalbari, Siliguri, Phansideoa, Bowanipore, Jorasanko, Bidhannagar, Raniganj, Asansol South, Asansol North, Kulti, Barabani, Englishbazar, Kalchini, Madarihat, Nagrakata, Islampur, Krishnagar North, Basirhat South, Bhatpara, Kharagpur Town and Serampore.
The lone BJP candidate Badal Bhattacharya had won a seat in the state Assembly from Asoknagar in 2001.
The RSS, from which BJP draws its cadre and support base, has also increased its activities in Bengal. RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat was in north Bengal after the election results were announced. The RSS in the last three years has increased its presence in the state significantly with more than 280 Shakas in south Bengal and more than 700 shakas in north Bengal.
The BJP's best performance in Bengal so far was in 1999 when it bagged two seats, but that in alliance with the Trinamool Congress. This time, the BJP fought on its own recording nearly a three-time higher voting percentage of over 17 per cent.
Bollywood singer and BJP candidate Babul Supriyo came up with a surprise win in Asansol while his party colleague S S Ahluwalia humbled former Indian soccer captain Bhaichung Bhutia of Trinamool Congress in Darjeeling.
BJP state President Rahul Sinha said that the result of this parliamentary election marked a new beginning for his party and asserted it was destined henceforward go from strength to strength in the coming days.
The next big test for the BJP is the Kolkata Municipal Corporation election next year, for which the party has already started working out a strategy.
The ultimate goal of the BJP is to replace the Left Front as the principal opposition to the Trinamool Congress, which is by all indications perturbed at the inroads the saffron party made in state politics.
However, for the moment it is Mamata magic all the way as her party won 34 of 42 Lok Sabha seats, recording its best-ever performance.