New Delhi, May 2 (PTI) Mamata Banerjee rode the BJP challenge to take her Trinamool Congress to triumph for a third consecutive term in West Bengal on Sunday while the BJP was set to return in Assam and the LDF in Kerala, signature victories for ruling parties which decisively beat the anti-incumbency syndrome.
However, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry voted against the incumbents – AIADMK prepared to cede space to the opposition DMK-led alliance in the former and the AINRC-led NDA headed toward power in the latter.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered his congratulations to Banerjee, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and DMK's M K Stalin.
The cynosure of the elections, held over March and April as the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic picked up pace to finally ravage large parts of the country, was the high-stakes, acrimonious TMC-BJP contest in West Bengal that had dominated headlines, drawing room conversations and political discourse.
It was a victory that had Mamata Banerjee imprinted all over with the TMC winning 21 seats and leading in 190 of the 292-member house -- the possible 211 seats comfortably over the winning mark of 147. But her own seat in Nandigram was in jeopardy.
The tantalising has-she-won-has-she-not game played out for much of the day as votes were counted under strict Covid protocols. While some TV channels declared her victory, the Election Commission website at 8 pm showed she was trailing behind her one-time loyalist and now BJP candidate Suvendu Adhikari in his home constituency Nandigram by more than 4,392 votes.
Banerjee conceded defeat to Adhikari, who proved to be a tough competitor and could well emerge one of the party’s most powerful leaders.
“I respect the verdict of people of Nandigram, but have got landslide victory in Bengal,” Banerjee said. She added that she would move court against the 'mischief' in Nandigram.
The BJP, which worked hard to build inroads in the state and gave it its all, was trailing far behind with just 78 seats. It was a long way from the three seats in the last elections for the party, which fielded its top leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, but power in state proved to be elusive.
The Left parties, which once called the state their bastion, and the Congress were demolished and not even a factor in the eight-phase election. The campaigning was marked by images of Banerjee in a wheelchair with a thick cast on her leg after she was injured during campaigning.
In a brief address to party workers, Banerjee was business like and sombre. “Tackling COVID-19 is a priority,” she said, asking that no grand oath-taking ceremony would be organised and there would be a victory rally in Kolkata only after the pandemic was over.
“It's victory of Bengal and democracy,” she said.
In terms of vote share, the TMC had 48.1 per cent of the votes against the BJP’s 37.8.
The BJP had reason to smile in Assam where the ruling NDA was ahead of the Congress-led Grand Alliance with leads and results in 80 of 126 seats. The BJP won eight seats and was ahead in 53 while its ally AGP was poised to bag 11 seats and the UPPL in eight.
The Grand Alliance was ahead in about 40 seats and its spearhead Congress in 27 of that.
Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said the people had blessed them.
“We can say for sure that the BJP will form government in Assam. We are coming back to power with our partners AGP and UPPL,' Sonowal told reporters.
In Kerala, Left-led alliance LDF readied for another term, the first time in four decades that the same grouping could form government for the second consecutive time.
The two main constituents of the LDF, the CPI(M) and the CPI, were together leading in 79 seats, comfortably over the magic number for power in the 140-member assembly.
'I thank the people of Kerala for reposing faith in an unprecedented manner in the way that the previous LDF government tackled all the challenges that the people have faced and also the pandemic scourge. The government gave a Kerala model to the world on how to handle the pandemic,' CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury said.
Among the prominent losers was 'Metroman' E Sreedharan, who had joined the BJP with much fanfare ahead of the elections.
The BJP was ahead in three seats in Kerala and four in Tamil Nadu, its efforts to make an electoral dent in the two southern states bearing fruit.
As counting progressed, the BJP came a cropper in Kerala and was ahead in three in Tamil Nadu.
The DMK was ahead in 126 seats in Tamil Nadu, a feather in its president Stalin’s cap. Its partner Congress was ahead in 16, while ruling AIADMK was likely to end up with just 76 seats in the 234-member assembly. Victory in 118 will ensure a simple majority.
Both the Dravidian parties went into the election without their stalwarts, J Jayalalithaa for the AIADMK and M Karunanidhi for the DMK.
Tamil Nadu was also the one bright spot for the Congress where the DMK-led opposition alliance, of which it is a part, looked in a position of power to trounce the AIADMK-BJP coalition. In the rest of the states, it was a story of more losses underscoring its electoral insignificance.
Though the Election Commission had banned victory roadshows and vehicle rallies, crowds of jubilant supporters of various parties could be seen celebrating in various places in violation of Covid norms. The drumbeats of victory came in the backdrop of an election which will be remembered for vast, crowded rallies – with most people without proper masks -- amid the pandemic. PTI TEAM MIN MIN MIN