What made the three-in-a-row victory possible for Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool which was battling anti-incumbency and charges of corruption?
Contrary to the expectations of a nail-biting finish, Bengal ‘khela’ turned out to be a one-sided affair with Didi walking away with the winner’s crown convincingly. What makes this victory so important is that Mamata Banerjee was up against Prime Minister Narendra Modi who had put his entire political machinery behind the election. The carpet-bombing of the campaign by Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP president J.P. Nadda besides a host of other cabinet ministers reflected the party’s eagerness to unseat Mamata. But she proved to be a one-woman army for the Trinamool Congress party. The victory is, no doubt, a shot in the arm for Mamata Banerjee, but it will also act as a ‘sanjeevani booti’ for the moribund opposition.
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The BJP employed everything in its arsenal to weaken Mamata, but she was not shaken. In fact, the BJP attempted to wear her out by engineering a spate of defections in her party. But she was not deterred. Rather, it steeled her resolve. The BJP’s decision to put up former Trinamool Congress candidates backfired as only a handful of them could secure victory.
What made the three-in-a-row victory possible for Trinamool which was battling anti-incumbency and charges of corruption?
The Trinamool was largely helped by the Congress and the Left Front, which have ruled the state for over 60 years between them and who chose to be fence-sitters this time. Recognising that they will not be able to pose any challenge to the BJP, both the Congress and the Left decided to remain silent warriors as part of a strategy and let the Trinamool slug it out. The grand design was not to allow the Muslim vote to be split. According to the 2011 Census, the Muslim population in West Bengal was 2.47 crore (27.01 percent) of the total 9.13 crore. In 10 years since, one can safely assume that the percentage of the Muslim population would be at least 30 percent, if not more. That they wield influence in close to 100 of the 294 assembly seats makes them a powerful bloc.
The Muslim vote has played an important role in Trinamool’s rise to power. In the past, both the Congress and the Left were also the major beneficiaries of the Muslim vote. However, the Muslim voter has also become smart over the years. Rather than putting all their eggs in one basket, read political party, the Muslims have been voting for the candidates instead which is why there has been a gradual increase in the number of Muslim candidates put up by all the political parties and the BJP is also no exception. The BJP fielded nine Muslim candidates this time as compared to 42 by TMC.
With both the Congress and the Left realising that a dent in the Muslim vote will serve the interests of the BJP only, the two decided to go slow sending out a clear signal to the Muslims who to vote for if the BJP had to be stopped. And as it happened, the Muslims voted en masse for the Trinamool this time ensuring its victory in about 100 seats. So, in effect, the real fight between the Trinamool and the BJP skittled down to close to 200 non-Muslim influential seats. If the BJP were to unseat the Mamata government, it needed to win 147 seats of these 200 or so seats, which was quite a Himalayan task!
Another important factor that contributed to Trinamool’s landslide victory was women who constitute about 49 percent of the electorate and who have been nurtured by the Mamata Banerjee government which runs dozens of women-centric schemes. The women voters have steadfastly been avid supporters of Didi since she breached the citadel of the Communists in the state.
The personal barbs by the BJP leadership against Mamata, particularly Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Didi O’ Didi’, did not go down well with the ‘Bhadralok’ of Bengal which they found very insulting for the ‘Daughter of Bengal’. And the result is for everybody to see. While the BJP has made substantial gains by winning 77 seats compared to the last assembly election when it had three seats, the party has, in fact, suffered reverses since it won 18 of the parliamentary seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Breaking down as assembly constituency-wise, the BJP had won 121 assembly constituencies then which has come down to 77. The Trinamool’s vote share has risen by 6 percent — from 43 percent to 49 percent — while the BJP’s has gone down to 37 percent from 40 percent.
So, where does Mamata go from here? Will she emerge as the Opposition face in 2024? With Congress in the dumps, the 2024 parliamentary elections will be largely fought between the BJP and the regional satraps and there is no doubt that Mamata has emerged as one of the most powerful regional leaders after this election. Can she be a rallying point for all the non-Congress and non-BJP political forces? Only time will tell.
—Vikas Khanna is a journalist and columnist with over three decades of experience. The views expressed are personal
(Edited by : Ajay Vaishnav)