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Pandemic-hit West Bengal witnessed wild celebrations on Sunday as Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee tasted a third victory that almost overshadowed her coming to power in Bengal in 2011, the year that ended the Left Front’s 34-year monolithic regime.

“This is Bengal’s victory. Only Bengal can do it," Banerjee told supporters outside her south Kolkata residence at 5pm. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won in only 82 constituencies, while the TMC led in 208 of the 292 seats where polls were held.

As counting of votes projected the trend in the afternoon, it became apparent that the BJP, despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union home minister Amit Shah, and more than 200 central leaders carrying out the grandest election campaign Bengal ever witnessed, was nowhere close to fulfilling its resolution to win over 200 of the state’s 294 seats. Polls were held in 292 seats as two Opposition candidates in Murshidabad died of covid-19 in mid-April. Elections in these seats would be held on 16 May.

During the unprecedented eight-phase polling and almost three months of hectic campaigning, Banerjee took on her challengers from a wheelchair because of a left foot injury she suffered on 10 March at East Midnapore district’s Nandigram where she contested against her cabinet colleague-turned-adversary Suvendu Adhikari on 1 April.

The contest in Nandigram was a close one. Banerjee got defeated by around 1,900 votes. TMC challenged the verdict and demanded re-counting but the prayer was not accepted by the Election Commission (EC) till 9 pm.

“We accept people’s verdict but we will move the court against the EC as there were many irregularities during the counting of votes. They (EC) made contradictory announcements in between which the EC’s server went down. The verdict does not match the voting pattern in adjacent constituencies and rest of Bengal. How can there be so much of mismatch?" Banerjee told the media at her house in south Kolkata earlier in the evening.

Days after most of the exit polls predicted a third term for Banerjee albeit with less than the 211 seats she had won in 2016, BJP leaders conceded defeat and the party’s newly-built election office at Hastings in south Kolkata wore a deserted look.

“We have to analyse whether there was something wrong with our campaign strategy and decisions taken by the leadership," said BJP state general secretary Sayantan Basu.

In terms of the Lok Sabha elections results, the BJP was ahead of the TMC in 121 assembly segments but the picture underwent a radical transformation on Sunday. “Fielding so many turncoats turned the tide against the BJP because people did not accept these candidates," said Kolkata-based political science professor and poll analyst Udayan Bandopadhyay, who had predicted that BJP would get around 80 seats only.

Meanwhile, as predicted by most exit polls, BJP is set to return to power in Assam, becoming the first non-Congress government to win consecutive terms in the northeastern state.

Figures for the total 126 seats available till 10 pm showed that the BJP and its allies had won in 46 seats and were leading in 28 seats while the Congress and its allies had won in 22 seats and were ahead in 28 seats. A party or alliance needs 64 seats to form the government in the state. The BJP alone had won 33 seats and was leading in 25 seats. It’s alliance alliance partners, the Asom Gana Parishad had won 8 seats and was ahead in 1 while United Peoples Party Liberal had won 5 seats and was leading in 1.

“Based on the performance of our government and the election strategy, we were confident of winning in Assam. We are grateful to voters for reposing faith in us for the next five years and will work with renewed energy for them," said BJP spokesperson Subhash Dutta.

On the other hand, Congress had won 14 seats and was leading in 17 others. It’s alliance partners All India United Democratic Front had won 6 and was leading in 10 and Bodoland Peoples’ Front had won 2 seats and was ahead in 1. Another partner CPI(M) was leading in 1 seat.

Utpal Parashar from Guwahati contributed to this story.

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