The verdicts in the latest Assembly elections hold different lessons for different parties. Assam, West Bengal, and Kerala vote for the incumbents, while Tamil Nadu and Puducherry vote for change, reports MUDIT MATHUR
Amid second surge of the pandemic blamed due to policy paralysis and high-voltage excessive electioneering with open violations of Covid-19 norms holding big rallies by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi with glisters of BJP star campaigners, Bengal lived to its rich ethos once again, rejecting the politics of religious polarisation. Bengal has distinct contribution to the national freedom struggle which conceptualised a pluralistic society depicting inclusive India comprising Punjab, Sindh, Gujarat, Maratha, Dravid, Utakal, Banga with all its naturals Vindhya-Himalayan beauty of hills and Ganga-Yamuna rivers environs.
In political terms, the results from the five states — West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam, and Puducherry — which went to the polls strongly underline the limits of BJP’s poll gambit. In big states, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala, the presence of regional satraps countered BJP’s bulldozing effectively. Its religious refrain did manage votes and some seats but it failed to storm the bastions of regional leaders.
The trend also underlined the unique federalism that is contained in the Indian political psyche. Bengal did vote substantially for the BJP in the 2019 parliamentary elections but shied away from it at the regional level. The same is true to an extent in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. However, the BJP occupied the vacuum of opposition parties in West Bengal by winning 77 seats from just three seats while Congress and the Left parties drew a blank.
BJP’s failure in Kerala is particularly biting. Through 2019-2021, it had raised a huge hue and cry over discrimination politics practiced by the ruling Left combine. The state machinery was also unleashed by the Central leadership to unearth scandals in the UDF government in a bid to tarnish its image. However, at the end of the day, the strategy rebounded. The sitting CM won a historic second term despite all the mechanization brought into play by the BJP. The story in Tamil Nadu was similar.
With the landslide hat-trick victory of the Trinamool Congress, Mamata Banerjee preserved Bengal’s traditional values and ethos by muzzling the unbridled might of Modi governance, with its growing dominance over all pillars of constitutional institutions of the democracy, rejecting his brand of politics. When world leaders were battling to vaccinate their citizens protecting their lives at any cost against the deadly virus, Modi’s entire focus was on conquering West Bengal and state elections to bring them under his “double-engine governance” through massive rallies without following Covid-19 protocols. He was busy in vaccine diplomacy rather than addressing our national needs.
The long-run eight-phase campaign saw a sudden surge in the cases of coronavirus infection in the poll-bound states creating an emergency situation with an acute shortage of hospital beds, medicines, and above all life-saving oxygen support. “Go home, and bathe in hot water,” Mamata Banerjee said to her supporters crowding her residence moments after she beat back a vitriolic and no-holds-barred political assault by the BJP during the recently concluded Assembly elections.
“Please maintain Covid-19 protocol, we have many affected,” she advised her over-jealous supporters. The Election Commission had earlier rejected Trinamool Congress for clubbing the remaining phase of polling in view of Covid spread in the state.
Didi, as West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, is affectionately called, betrayed no emotions at being re-elected for the third term after an intense electoral battle that saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah bend their sinews to oust her from power. There was grim satisfaction on her face though as the world cheered a victory which till the last round of counting, seemed to have been snatched away from her allegedly through partisan election commission, political manipulations, and unfair electoral practices.
But on May 2, 2021, Assembly poll results weren’t Didi’s first encounter with all odds stacked up against her. She had routed the deeply entrenched the Left Front government in 2011 by the sheer dent of hard work on the ground and her never-say-die spirit. “It’s so hot. Go home and bathe,” she had advised
her supporters after uprooting the Left from its 34 years in power.
And, as in 2011 and in 2021, Didi’s ‘Go home and bathe’ counsel had as much to do with personal hygiene as with political cleansing. In 2011, she had cleansed Bengal of the Left. In 2021, she took the Hindutva brigade by the horns and made it bite the dust.
The campaign in West Bengal for the 2021 assembly elections was particularly shrill. It was also full of fire and brimstone, with the top BJP leadership expanding all its financial and manpower resources to ensure that the Bengal voter was convinced of its invincibility. It also engineered dozens of high-profile defections from the TMC, the prized fish being Suvendu Adhikari, Mamata’s key point man in Nandigram. This defection particularly hurt Mamata Banerjee and she decided to take him on in a straight contest from the Nandigram assembly seat. The supporters and office bearers of Trinamool Congress also harassed and hauled up by the Centre’s agencies like ED and CBI to create demoralising effect.
Given the money power, manpower and lung power heaped upon West Bengal in these elections, the third term for Didi, till the end of the campaign, seemed like a distant dream. The PM went to the extent of personally heckling her — “Didi O Didi” he called out at his election rallies — besides calling her anti-Hindu and pro-Muslim. In fact, at all the public meetings Modi and Shah specifically harped on the consolidation of Hindu votes, pitting the community against all other religious groups. Polarization of votes, the BJP was convinced, was the key to winning Bengal.
But the voters in the state had other ideas. Judging by TMC’s final seat tally 213, it is clear that Mamata Banerjee was able to galvanize all sections of society in her favour. Women voted overwhelmingly in her favour irrespective of their religious denomination; as did the Muslims and the upper caste Bhadralok. The poor and the discriminated stood with her again, attending BJP rallies for the freebies in cash and kind and giving the party a false sense of confidence, but actually voting for TMC.
The shine of election victory diminished with people dying gasping for oxygen. There are shortages everywhere — vaccine, oxygen, beds reflecting a policy paralysis whereas the health system has collapsed and states and people are left at the mercy of God to fend themselves. The day counting begins for state assembly elections India hit the global record with a single-day spike of over 4 lakh Covid-19 cases, marking yet another global record for the highest single-day case count. More than 3,689 people died. India has been witnessing a massive surge in the Covid-19 cases for the past few months. The country had crossed the 3-lakh mark on April 22 and the 4-lakh mark on next Saturday exposing false narrative on the control and preparation to deal the pandemic.
It is high time for Prime Minister Modi to learn from the Dr. Manmohan Singh, who presided over India’s march to progress for a full decade and maintained the high dignity of a prime minister. The power structure on the foundation of the cronies cannot survive long. The biggest sufferer is the Nagpur establishment, thousands of the self-less RSS volunteers feel highly embarrassed, the corpses strewn on the cities and villages tell the gory tale of the disaster, the Modi government has brought upon the people of the country.
It will be a mistake to conclude that the BJP’s defeat in West Bengal is like the decisive battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815, between the French and the English, which had sealed the fate of Napoleon Bonaparte, but it has much bigger implications and ramifications for the Narendra Modi brand of politics within the BJP.
The Hindutva of Modi is being burnt on the pyre of the millions of Hindus across the country, where the victims of the coronavirus are being allowed to die without adequate care. Modi’s admirers and his cronies are asking whether Muslim cemeteries too are equally crowded? It only means that “it will be just a naivety to believe” that Modi and his ruling clique in the BJP would allow ‘any saner voices’ in the coming weeks to be heard.
Does it mean that Modi, who symbolized the ‘rise of the Hindutva power’ since 2014, will accept the ‘mistake of interpreting’ India’s plural society in a sectarian narrow definition? The answer, perhaps, is that ‘he might make a last bid to reassert his narrative of Hindutva, but he might not be able to succeed. The threat to his brand of the Hindutva-based Indian nationalism is getting more and more pronounced.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Mamata Banerjee, “Congratulations to Mamata Didi for @AITCofficial’s win in West Bengal. The Centre will continue to extend all possible support to the West Bengal Government to fulfill people’s aspirations and also to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic. @MamataOfficial,” he tweeted.
“I would like to thank my sisters and brothers of West Bengal who have blessed our party. From a negligible presence earlier, BJP’s presence has significantly increased. BJP will keep serving the people. I applaud each and every Karyakarta for their spirited effort in the polls,” the Prime Minister further tweeted.
Without waiting for PM’s reaction, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh was quick to congratulate Mamta Banerjee on her historic victory, “Congratulations to the Chief Minister of West Bengal, @MamataOfficial Didi on her party’s victory in West Bengal assembly elections. My best wishes to her for her next tenure.
Union Home Minster Amit Shah tweeted several hours later, “Congratulations to @MamataOfficial Didi, Shri@vijayanpinarayiand Shri@mkstalinfor their parties success in the assembly elections. I am sure the state governments will work shoulder to shoulder with the central government for the welfare of the people.”
BJP general secretary in charge of West Bengal Kailash Vijayvargiya congratulates Mamata Banerjee on her victory, says BJP will play the part of a constructive opposition but also appeals to her to restrain her cadre who are “creating a situation of anarchy” upon victory.
Rahul Gandhi on twitter: “I’m happy to congratulate Mamata ji and the people of West Bengal for soundly defeating the BJP”.
M.K.Stalin “I congratulate @MamataOfficialon her re-election as Chief Minister of West Bengal.
At a time of the Covid-19 wave, I have no doubt that Didi will ensure the safety of citizens and lead her state to growth and prosperity. On behalf of DMK, I wish Didi another successful tenure.”
Congress spokesperson Ragini Nayak questioned its leadership,“If we (Congress) continue to find our happiness in the defeat of Modi, how come we introspect reasons for our defeat?”
Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav while congratulating the conscious public West Bengal, the combative Ms. Mamta Banerjeeand the dedicated leaders and activists of TMC, remarked her success against the forces spreading hatred and befitting reply to those who jibed“Didi O Didi.”
Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati also tweeted, “Heartiest congratulations and best wishes to party leader and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for the better performance by TMC in the West Bengal Assembly General Election. Also, hearty congratulations and best wishes to Stalin of Tamil Nadu, Vijayan from Kerala, and Sonwal of Assam for victory in the assembly elections.