By Dhurjati Mukherjee
In the intense West Bengal elections, the ruling-Trinamool Congress emerged victorious garnering around 213 seats, which belied predictions by most analysts, who had given the party a maximum of 170 or 180-odd. Anti-incumbency, a factor in most elections,particularly for a third term run did not reflect here. Mamata Banerjee ended up literally giving the BJP a run for its money.
This TMC victory, however,did have its share of shocking news in the defeat of its supremo, in Nandigram with a margin of over 1900 seats, to her arch rival, Suvendu Adhikari, a former Cabinet colleague even though she announced to go to court against the result. The TMC wave and Mamata’s loss is indeed difficult to comprehend. Analysts are finding it challenging to justify, given the fact that the latter is more well-known than the party and is largely believed to have single-handedly steered her party to victory.
The reasons for such a massive victory, though quite unexpected, may be attributed to several factors. The most important being that Mamata, who is known for appeasing the Muslims, was fully successful in garnering majority of their votes in districts such as Malda and Murshidabad, traditionally the Congress’, which was wiped out completely. This is further demonstrated by the fact that in Kolkata, two Muslim leaders and former ministers — Firhad Hakim and Javed Khan — won by largest margins of over 68,000 and 63,000 votes. Tragically, both the Congress and CPM failed to win a single seat. In fact, of the 141 Assembly seats having Muslim presence, TMC bagged 120, whereas only one went to Abbas Siddiqui’s Indian Secular Front and 20 to the BJP.
The other crucial factor is her plastered leg. Though a question mark lingers about the nature of the fracture, Mamata, who campaigned in a wheel chair, ensured it was prominently noticed, obviously to garner sympathy. A major section of the rural population were perhaps turned off with BJP supporters as they were said to be responsible for it and that too not sparing a woman.
At the same time, one cannot deny that Mamata’s populist programmes such as Duare Sarkar,Kanyashree, Rupashree, free rations etc, close to the elections enticed the electorate in a big way. Plus, by keeping the image as Bengal’s didi, Mamata did have women voters opting for her as being a messiah who would resolve their problems. According to psephologist and Rabindra Bharati University Professor Biswanath Chakraborty,Didi’s promise of basic income support for women enabled the party to corner a big chunk of the women’s votes. In fact, charges of massive corruption, specially with Amphan funds, focussed by the BJP, were overshadowed by these populist measures.
On the other hand, for the BJP, which had no presence in the State a few years back and had just three seats in the last Assembly, the numbers going up to 77 cannot be brushed aside, even though it failed to retain its leads in 121 seats, manifest during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. It can take solace in the fact that it is fit to be strong Opposition, in fact the only one. More so, because reports indicate that there were many places where it didn’t have a base and couldn’t put up agents during elections. The State leadership feels, and quite rightly, that time is necessary to build up a strong grass-root organisation like its formidable opponent.
The BJP’s vote share dipped 2 per cent compared to its 2019 share of 40.6 per cent while that of the TMC increased by 4 per cent in as against 43.6 per cent then. BJP’s loss could be attributed to Mamata’s successfully portraying Bangla nijermei kay chay (Bengal wants her own daughter) as against the former being ‘bohiragato’ (outsider), who has no knowledge and respect for Bengal’s culture.
In such a charged scenario, the campaigning by BJP’s top brass, Prime Minister Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, BJP President Nadda and UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, may have got the crowds but certainly didn’t end up in votes. And Mamata, true to her style, was sharp to question Modi’s frequent campaigning in the State by projecting it as neglecting the office of the Prime Minister and spending his energy targeting a Bengali woman instead. This and that many of BJP’s star campaigners spoke in Hindi, didn’t enthuse the rural population. Perhaps, film star Mithun Chakrabortymay have charmed them more, only if he had been roped in earlier.
The BJP’s poor performance in comparison to its boastful claim of winning 200 seats, can be attributed to it losing out in its strongholds in Jangal Mahal, the adivasi belt of Jhargram and some parts of North Bengal. The reasons may be attributed to lack of a strong local leader. Moreover, the party was wiped out from Hooghly district and didn’t fare well in Nadia.
Intriguingly,the BJP failed to win a single seat in Kolkata, despite there being a significant non-Bengali population and old time businessmen, who traditionally have been its supporters. Was it because the polling was in the last phase, by which time Modi and his team were both nationally and internationally facing severe criticism for the mishandling of the devastating second wave of the pandemic, the shortage of hospital beds, oxygen cylinders, holding rallies and Kumbh mela instead? There catastrophe seemed to have led to a sudden loss of faith in the BJP and the voter stuck to TMC in spite of its poor economic performance and lack of good governance. Plus, the ‘no vote to BJP’ campaign launched by a group of political and civil rights’ activists in January seems to have impacted the saffron party’s steamroller.
Reports also suggest that all decisions and selection of candidates taken by the central leadership of BJP didn’t go down well with the rank and file and its supporters. Moreover, some TMC leaders, who shifted to the BJP camp were not accepted and eventually lost, an admission by the state leadership too.
After being re-elected for the third time, Mamata rightly declared the ‘victory is for Bengal and its people.” And while celebrations have been put off till second wave of corona settles down, the challenges before her are indeed immense. The most immediate being the rise in number of Covid cases not just in Kolkata but in adjoining district of 24 Parganas (North) and Howrah. The health infrastructure needs to be geared up urgently and it would be advisable if she shreds her authoritarian style and delegates authority to those who can handle it better.
Plus, while its certain the host of populist measures announced by TMC may not have a success rate, the administration should at least ensure the poor are not denied the benefit, as they were when Amphan funds were cornered by party members. Besides, Mamata should be prepared that adequate Central funds won’t be forthcoming and both unemployment and underemployment in the State may rise. She should start considering revamping industrialisation in the State, among other steps. Her government must remember that a smarting BJP will be keeping more than a watchful eye. An opposition, which shall keep Mamata on her toes. — INFA