Three features stand out as highlights of the outcome of the Assembly election in West Bengal.
1- The new House is totally bipolar with Trinamool Congress at a commanding height with 213 seats in a 294-member House and facing a solid block opposition from the BJP which has 77 members.
2- The Left and the Congress, the ones that ruled the State in the past for various terms, have been totally wiped out.
3- The Chief Minister who took upon the BJP juggernaut though emerged as a doughty, irrepressible leader and a giant killer but lost her personal seat. It may be seen as a minor inconvenience.
Fighting off incumbency load of two terms was no small feat for the diminutive West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in a State beset with issues of rampant poverty, devastation by cyclone (i.e., Amphan), allegation of corruption and infiltrations from across the border and a huge backlog on the economic development front. But Mamata took up the gauntlet thrown by the BJP which had all the might of the Central dispensation at its disposition. At the end what the Union Home Minister had claimed to be his winning tally, i.e., 200 seats, proved to be true for the adversary, namely Didi.
But one should not mistake the Didi’s big win to cast the BJP to trash bin. The Hindutva Party’s 77 clearly points to a saffron surge. In the previous House it had just 3 members. Now the entire Opposition benches, barring two members, will be occupied by the saffron party. In terms of popular votes Mamata’s TMC garnered 48% votes and the BJP 38%. One wonders if the TMC would be able to defend its bastion with burden of three-term incumbency next time. But that is clearly five years away. It is clear from the analysis that the BJP which had fancied its chances of winning the State based on the 2019 Lok Sabha election outcome—it won 18 and the TMC 22 LS seats—lost about 3% of the voteshare and the TMC gained around 4% of it. It is also shown that this time round, 80% of the minority votes—Muslims constitute 27% of the population—fell into the kitty of the TMC who were apprehensive of the BJP’s advent and sufficiently forewarned of measures like CAA and NCR. The TMC bagged almost all the seats in Malda, Murshidabad and Vaidanathpur districts. In Malda district alone, it picked up 36 out of total 49 constituencies. And two more constituencies still await election as candidates died during the campaign period. However, Mamata Government’s good work and development projects in tribal-dominated Jangalmahal districts of Bankura, Purulia and Midnapore had already wooed the scheduled tribes and brought her party rich dividends.
The BJP’s high voltage campaign had left no one in doubt that the seat of power in West Bengal was its target. It had unleashed all its cadre and propaganda machinery to clinch the State. But Didi appealing to the Bangla subnationalism, flaunting her injured leg from a wheelchair, projected a picture of victimhood. Her welfare schemes targeted at women and girls had already carved out a soft corner in the hearts of women. The traditionally BJP-leaning Marwari business community of Kolkata and Asansol, also seem to have voted for the TMC in a bid not to be seen on the other side of the political divide. She thus felt no need to make any ideological posturing to match the BJP’s Hindutva. The BJP’s leviathan publicity apparatus had spared nothing while seeking to tarnish the Chief Minister. Votes were sought on ‘Remember, It is Mumtaz, not Mamata’ jibe.
The Congress and the Marxists were out of the reckoning from the word go. The Marxist leadership in the State is clearly out of sync with the age. The Congress which had its traditional hold over Muslim dominated Malda and Murshidabad almost had surrendered them to the TMC much before the fight.
As could be gleaned from the list of successful candidates, the turncoats have been taught a lesson. Of the 18 TMC MLAs who quit the party during the last six months, all but a couple of them suffered humiliating defeats. Lying on the losers heap are former TMC Minister Rajib Bhattacharya; Rabindranath Bhattacharya; actor Rudranil Ghosh; former Howrah Mayor Rathin Chakrabarty; Bally Baishali Dalmiya; former Asansol Mayor Jitendra Tewari; former Uttarpara MLA Prabir Kumar Ghosal; Silbhadra Datta; Dipak Haldar; and, Sabyasachi Dutta. However, BJP vice President Mukul Roy who had switched allegiance to the BJP in 2017, won the Krishnanagar Uttar seat. Though Suvendu Adhikari too has won from Nandigram, credibility of it is still being debated. A notable loss for the BJP is journalist turned politician Swapan Dasgupta who had resigned his Rajya Sabha seat to contest election from Tarakeshwar seat. He was defeated by TMC’s Ramendu Sinharay. Grapevine has it that Swapan Dasgupta was being tipped to be the Chief Minister in the event of BJP winning the elections.
Didi is third time lucky. But it is worth pondering if she can continue to rule sans an ideology and cadre.