When India went to the polls in the Spring of 2019, there were few states that election observers were watching more closely than the state of West Bengal. Home to 100 million Indians and responsible for 42 seats in Parliament, West Bengal is always a state worth watching.

 

Yet, this time was different. For decades, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been a bit player in this eastern state. For three decades, the state was a bastion of India’s Communist parties. And since 2011, the state has been dominated by Mamata Banerjee and the Trinamool Congress, a popular Bengali regional party. And, yet, in 2019 the BJP did the unthinkable. It won 18 of Bengal’s seats–earning a stunning 40 percent of the vote. And it did so despite having a minimal party organization on the ground.

This summer, Milan sat down with Shoaib Daniyal of the Indian digital news site Scroll.in. During the election, Shoaib did some of the most interesting and most illuminating reporting on the electoral battle in Bengal. Here’s our conversation from the Hindustan Times studio in New Delhi from this July.

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