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Didi derails BJP’s Bengal dreams

The BJP—despite a well-resourced and high-profile campaign led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the promise of greater industrialization and welfare and strategy of majority Hindu consolidationPremium
The BJP—despite a well-resourced and high-profile campaign led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the promise of greater industrialization and welfare and strategy of majority Hindu consolidation

Mamata Banerjee weathers anti-incumbency to win a third term even as BJP expands footprint Pinarayi Vijayan bucks 40-year trend to return to power in Kerala MK Stalin leads DMK alliance to victory in Tamil Nadu Sarbananda Sonowal looks set to form the government for a second term in Assam

The Trinamool Congress (TMC), led by Mamata Banerjee, India’s only woman chief minister, swept the West Bengal assembly polls for the third time, winning (or leading in) 208 out of the 292 seats that went to polls in the state, in a sign of the continued assertion of regional parties in Indian politics, and a major setback to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The TMC won—but Banerjee lost her own fiercely fought assembly battle in Nandigram by a narrow margin
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The TMC won—but Banerjee lost her own fiercely fought assembly battle in Nandigram by a narrow margin

Riding on a mix of welfare delivery, Bengali sub-nationalism, Banerjee’s own popularity and connect with the grassroots, and substantial minority consolidation, the TMC won—but Banerjee lost her own fiercely fought assembly battle in Nandigram by a narrow margin, to her former colleague and aide-turned-BJP leader, Suvendu Adhikari. She is, however, widely expected to return as CM—and will have to contest and win an election within six months, as constitutionally stipulated, to remain CM. The TMC has sought a recount in Nandigram.

“It is the victory of the people of Bengal, the victory of democracy. Bengal has saved India today. This landslide victory came after fighting against several odds—the Centre, its machinery, its agencies. This victory has saved humanity," Banerjee said.

The Bengal polls were marked by intense competition, political violence, charges of partisanship of institutions, and crowded rallies even as the second wave of covid-19 hit India.

The BJP—despite a well-resourced and high-profile campaign led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the promise of greater industrialization and welfare and strategy of majority Hindu consolidation—fell way short of its projected claim of winning 200 seats. It, however, emerged as the primary opposition in the state, winning (or leading) in 82 seats—a leap from the three seats it won in the 2016 assembly polls, but a dip from its tally in the Lok Sabha polls of 2019, which translated into leads in 121 assembly constituencies. In yet another sign of the changing political configuration in the state, the Left parties and the Congress failed to win a single seat.

Among other states that went to the polls, the results were marked by both continuity and change.

In Tamil Nadu, in the first state elections held after former chief ministers M. Karunanidhi and J. Jayalalithaa died, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-led alliance, under M.K. Stalin, won (or was leading) in 155 out of the state’s 234 seats. The DMK returns to power after a decade, riding on a degree of anti-incumbency, Stalin’s leadership, alliances, and unease with the BJP. The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam performed better than expected with 66 seats (the alliance won or was leading in 78), with chief minister E.K. Palaniswami seen as having performed credibly on covid management—but this was not enough to neutralize the support for the DMK.

“I hope to work hard and serve the people of Tamil Nadu as well as strengthen the secular forces in our country," Stalin said, responding to Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar’s congratulatory post on Twitter.

In Kerala, breaking a four-decade-old trend, where power has alternated between the two of the state’s major political formations, the Left Democratic Front (LDF) led by Pinarayi Vijayan made history by comfortably returning to power for a second consecutive time. Political observers in the state attribute the win to the government’s focused management of covid and Nipah outbreaks, as well as floods, during its term. The Left won 99 of the Kerala assembly’s 140 seats, with the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) a distant second with 41 seats. Former Congress president, Rahul Gandhi, is a parliamentarian from the state and had extensively campaigned for the UDF.

Vijayan said the historic victory of the LDF proved there was no room for communal politics in the state. “This victory belongs to the people of Kerala. I thank you all for reposing faith in the LDF once again. We need to come together more than ever before to tackle this pandemic and to take Kerala forward in the path of development, welfare and secularism!" he tweeted.

The BJP, however, had reason to smile in Assam, where it returned to power despite a united opposition for a second time, under the leadership of chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal and Himanta Biswa Sarma. The BJP largely relied on the government’s welfare schemes and communal polarization, where it accused the Congress and the All India United Democratic Front of being sympathetic to illegal Muslim immigrants. There is, however, speculation about whether the party would stick to the incumbent CM or appoint Sarma as the new leader of the legislative party.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) also crossed the majority mark in the Union territory of Puducherry, and the BJP will be a part of the coalition government in the UT for the first time.

The results are widely being seen as a setback for both national parties, with the BJP failing to achieve its stated aim in Bengal and the Congress failing to win a single state on its own and witnessing a further erosion of its base.

“Congratulations to Mamata Banerjee Didi, Shri Pinarayi Vijayan, and Shri MK Stalin for their parties’ success in the assembly elections. I am sure the state governments will work shoulder to shoulder with the central government for the welfare of the people," Union minister and senior BJP leader Amit Shah said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “I would like to thank my sisters and brothers of West Bengal who have blessed our party. From a negligible presence earlier, BJP’s presence has significantly increased. BJP will keep serving the people. I applaud each and every Karyakarta for their spirited effort in the polls."

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said: “I’m happy to congratulate Mamata ji and the people of West Bengal for soundly defeating the BJP."

Commenting on the significance of the results, Milan Vaishnav of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said, “These elections clarify a number of questions about the state of Indian politics. First, the BJP’s eastern march will not go unchallenged. Second, despite her loss in Nandigram, Mamata Banerjee has secured her place in the conversation over who will lead the opposition in 2024. Third, these results also speak to the challenges the opposition faces in coming together. The Left’s win in Kerala, the DMK’s triumph in Tamil Nadu, and Trinamool’s victory in Bengal illustrate the sheer diversity of the opposition."

Some analysts suggested that the fine print of the result showed the BJP had performed credibly. Sanjay Kumar of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies said, “One cannot take away from the fact that BJP won in Assam, increased its vote share in Kerala, and is forming a government in Puducherry as a part of a coalition."

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