How West Bengal has been won & lost: Eight take-aways
Predictions had ranged from a hung house to a thin majority for whoever wins. Voters in Bengal deliver a clear, decisive mandate and catch poll pundits by surprise
Many poll pundits, if not most, have been proved wrong by the results in West Bengal. Even the most optimistic Trinamul Congress supporters expected the party’s tally to be much lower than the 211 seats it won in 2016. They were publicly hopeful of the party bagging 170 seats or so, prayed privately for a bare majority but did not ever imagine that the party would again breach the 200-mark after being in power for two terms.
Mainstream media once again soiled their record and credibility by drum rolling the hype of BJP either winning or falling just short of the majority mark of 148. Several media outlets which mushroomed and flourished during the last five-six years in Bengal and in Delhi had already called the election in favour of the BJP after each of the eight phases of polling. BJP leaders’ claim that the party had already won 100 seats after the first four rounds of polling—repeated even by the Home Minister—was unquestioningly highlighted to fuel the hype created by the BJP. Yet, BJP lost and lost badly.
Here are some take-aways from the Bengal election:
1. Vote for good governance: Despite the media hype around corruption and anti-incumbency against her, Mamata Banerjee has been actually done spectacular work in managing the pandemic during the first surge last year. Her ‘Kanyashree’ scheme for girls and ‘Swasthya Saathi’ card have been very popular and successful. Not too many states offer people the chance of getting heart surgeries done free of cost in even private hospitals. The vote for her is a thumbs up to the welfare measures.
2. Minority votes: While the BJP accused her of minority appeasement, the chief minister pointed out that her government did not discriminate between communities and since minorities constituted 30 percent of the population, they too received their fair share. At the same time, she kept emphasizing her own Hindu Brahmin identity and chanted shlokas at every meeting. Not surprisingly even traditional Congress and left Front voters among minority communities rallied round her in her fight against the BJP.
3. BJP underestimated women power in Bengal: Women in Bengal, more than in states in the Hindi heartland, take their own decisions in matters of love, marriage and career. Even after marriage they enjoy an equal status with their husbands in financial matters. They could not have been enamoured of the Prime Minister heckling Mamata Banerjee as a reckless ‘Rock-er Chhele’, Yogi Adityanath promising that the BJP government in Bengal would crackdown on Love Jihad and BJP state president advising Mamata Banerjee to wear half pants to show her legs. It was a spectacular self-goal by the BJP and indicated its complete lack of understanding of Bengal and its ethos.
4. Paying BJP back in its own coin: Days of ‘decent’ politics is clearly dead. To fight BJP, parties need to wallow in the same muck, mock the BJP with the same aggression and intensity with which BJP leaders mock their opponents. Mamata Banerjee returned fire with fire, each blow with vicious blows of her own, jibe for jibe, polarization with polarization, violence with violence. Pundits would call it ‘killer instinct’. It paid off.
5. Size of crowds at rallies and roadshows are not conclusive: Huge crowds at the Prime Minister’s rallies and the Home Minister’s roadshows convinced many that the wind was blowing in favour of the BJP. They have turned out to be wrong. Even the Prime Minister waxed eloquently at the crowd at one of his rallies and acknowledged that he had never seen a crowd like that, mocking Banerjee that the game was over (Khela Shesh). The game had apparently just begun.
6. Most turncoats from TMC to BJP lost: Large number of defections from Trinamul Congress to the BJP ahead of the election were interpreted as rats deserting the sinking ship. Apparently, many of these sitting MLAs had been told that they would not be re-nominated because of their record. BJP, which did not have winnable local candidates in sufficient numbers, embraced them and fielded them as its candidates. Most of them have now lost despite the huge investment made in them by the BJP.
7. Limits of EC and money power: With Prashant Kishor on Sunday alleging on TV that the Election Commission had played a blatantly partisan role in Bengal, questions will now be raised not just about the role of the Commission and its impartiality but also about the unprecedented amount of money spent by the BJP in the election in Bengal. One need not be surprised if the Trinamul Congress comes out with a white paper on both EC and BJP’s money power.
8. Lesson for the Left: The decimation of the Left Front in Bengal is one of the more spectacular aspects of the election. Projected to secure barely 3.5% of the votes and possibly no seat (at the time of writing), the old guard in the Left parties face a revolt from younger comrades. The next few months will show if the Left, especially the CPI(M), retains the ability to revive itself in the state.