Didi stuns BJP, leads TMC to stunning victory

·4-min read

(Eds: Changing headline) By Jayanta Roy Chowdhury Kolkata, Apr 2 (PTI) Belying all expectations, the TMC was headed 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.

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 the Election Commission.

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 'combatting 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.

The actual results were a bitter let down for the BJP as Prime Minister Modi had staked his prestige in declaring his party was set to win over 200 seats after the first few phases of the unprecedented eight-phase election.

Modi and his home minister Amit Shah campaigned extensively throughout the state spending almost every other day of a one-and-a-half month long bruising campaign trying to breach the Trinamool Congress' fortress Bengal.

Countering the high voltage campaign where, besides Modi and Shah, the saffron party fielded half a dozen chief ministers and Union Cabinet ministers, the TMC presented just Banerjee with the slogan 'Bangla nijer meyekei chay' (Bengal wants her daughter) and a promise to expand its popular 'Duare Sarkar' (government at your doorsteps) programme.

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 prime minister's repeated taunts of 'Didi, O Didi' in his speeches too did not go down well in a state where women traditionally enjoyed a high social and economic status and where women remained a major vote bank for the TMC. The repeated use of Hindi too was not liked in a state where linguistic identity politics had in recent years gained ground.

However, 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 saffron party suddenly found itself trying to defend from COVID mismanagement charges.

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.

TMC leaders are now speculating that Banerjee who has already reached out to other national and regional parties opposed to the BJP would now try to mount a challenge to the saffron party in the general elections slated for 2024 by attempting to rally all opposition parties to forge a front against it. PTI JRC NN NN NN