By Jayanta Roy Chowdhury :
BELYING all expectations, the TMC was headed on Sunday for a landslide victory in assembly elections, overcoming the might of the BJP after a bitter campaign that had turned into a virtual duel between Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. However, the TMC’s victory sweep was marred by the narrow defeat of Mamata Banerjee against her fancied rival Suvendu Adhikari of BJP by 1,956 votes in the high-octane contest in Nandigram. By evening the trends were clear. Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress had won or was leading in 216 (93 wins and 123 leads) out of 292 constituencies which went to the polls with some 48 per cent of the votes counted so far. Polling was countermanded in two constituencies after candidates fell victim to a raging COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s a victory for Bengal’s people it’s Banglar joy’ (Bengal’s victory),” Banerjee told her party workers, though her own victory from Nandigram seemed in doubt with conflicting reports of her loss by a narrow margin and a recount, neither of which were confirmed by poll panel. Banerjee, set to be Chief Minister for a third term, however, stopped celebrations by her party workers and indicated that her first priority after the victory would be “combating the pandemic” which has been running amok in the State. The TMC’s main rival, the BJP was stymied in its ambition of winning the State with a total tally of wins and leads in just 74 constituencies (21 wins and 53 leads), with 38 per cent of the votes counted so far. It is far less than the 120 assembly segments where it wrested a majority when it won 18 Lok Sabha seats in the 2019 general elections. In the run up to the elections, the BJP had Banerjee on the defensive by campaigning against corruption involving TMC leaders and the ‘cut money’ (bribery) culture affecting citizens’ everyday life. It also gained traction by playing the caste and religious cards.
However, Banerjee’s appeal to ‘Bangaliana’ (Bengaliness), a cultural identity which defies divisions of caste and religion, seem to have worked with the electorate. As did the image of a lone woman combatting a galaxy of leaders from the Hindi hinterland trying to breach her fortress. The clincher for Banerjee came when she changed tracks ahead of the last three phases of polling by attacking Prime Minister Modi for leaving India unprepared for the second COVID wave. She has also blamed an influx of ‘outsiders brought by the BJP’ for the spread of coronavirus in the State. The Left Front which ruled West Bengal for 34 long years and the Congress which ruled for nearly two decades before that were, however, the biggest losers as they drew a blank.
Analysts said their voters seemingly deserted them in this bi-polar battle for either the TMC or the BJP as the electorate chose between the two different sets of ideologies on offer. An alliance with the newly-formed ISF does not seem to have helped the CPI(M)-led Left Front and the Congress combine.