Mamata On High Horse


BJP’s electoral calculations went wrong in West Bengal
People in three states of West Bengal, Kerala and Assam voted to retain their outgoing governments, while those in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, a Union Territory, voted for a change of the ruling alliance. The voters gave a comfortable majority to the hitherto ruling or opposition alliance which will help them govern the states without having to bother about toppling games. The results announced on Sunday brought to an end the longest-ever election process for state assemblies in the country. While elections to Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry assemblies were held in single phase, those in Assam were in three phases. However, the Election Commission of India in its highly questionable and disputable wisdom spread the voting in West Bengal over eight phases, despite the state and the rest of the country being in the grip of a second wave of coronavirus pandemic. Despite their maximal efforts, in which no holds were barred, the BJP failed to unseat Mamata Banerjee, though it emerged as a very strong opposition, and managed just four seats in Tamil Nadu. It drew a blank in Kerala.
The BJP must be wondering how they lost West Bengal despite the high-octave and intensive campaigns by star campaigners led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah. Mamata Banerjee won a spectacular victory against severe odds, something even she might not have been expecting. People of West Bengal were not swayed by the religious polarisation on a scale not seen before. Despite being rendered partially immobile following an incident while campaigning in her constituency, Mamata sprang surprises on the BJP bigwigs and poll pundits who had forecast she would lose power to the BJP. She actually improved her tally to 213 seats, which is higher than her previous election’s tally. Of course, her big setback was that she lost the crucial battle to her one-time confidante, Suvendu Adhikari, in Nandigram, who switched over to the BJP last December. Taking her personal defeat in her stride, she said that the win of her party was the victory for people of Bengal. The results in Bengal have shown limitations of religious polarisation as an election strategy. The BJP did everything possible to project itself as the saviour of one community and Mamata as being partisan to another community. That did not work or worked only to a limited extent. People voted for issues that concern their lives, and in that Mamata scored better than the BJP.
The electioneering in Bengal was the most aggressive among all states going to polls. Never before had the BJP run so massive a campaign in its 36 years of existence to win a state Assembly election. After winning 18 of the 42 seats in the state in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had hoped to win the 122 Assembly segments where it had got the largest share of vote. However, the party’s hope was belied. This has once again shown that voters can have a dual preference for who rules at the Centre and who rules in the state. This is not the first time it has happened. But the BJP relied largely on the Modi charisma to retain the support he had got in the state in 2019. People proved the party’s calculations wrong in at least 45 of the 122 Assembly segments where it lost. It could be that the BJP lost owing to its overcooked election campaign. Their overcooking probably generated sympathy for Mamata as the ‘daughter of Bengal’ being under attack, a rhetoric she capitalised on.
In the West Bengal elections, the role of the Election Commission of India has come under severe criticism from the TMC, which alleged that the ECI broke up the state poll into too many phases only to help BJP star campaigners get time off campaigns in other poll-bound states. They could come and go to other states and come back again. Surely, the many phases were unwarranted. The ECI has also faced strong criticism for not barring campaigners of parties for exciting religious sentiments. There was never a state election in which religious sentiments were so widely and continuously exploited for electoral gains.