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Is Didi now the tallest Opposition leader?

May 03, 2021 11:24 IST

'For the first time one single party is getting 49% which is a record of its own.'
Payal Singh Mohanka explains Mamata's magnificent election victory.

IMAGE: Trinamool Congress President Mamata Banerjee interacts with the media after the TMC's triumph in the Bengal assembly election, May 2, 2021. Photograph: Swapan Mahapatra/PTI Photo
 

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's euphoria is marred with a degree of disappointment as she narrowly lost the assembly election in Nandigram to Suvendu Adhikari, a former trusted aide who joined the Bharatiya Janata Party.

West Bengal saw a campaign like no other.

A two-term chief minister on a wheelchair with her foot in a plaster single-handedly stalled the mighty BJP juggernaut.

Mamata's Trinamool Congress has swept the state with a stunning 213 seats and is all set for a third term in office.

The campaign began with a shriek of Khela Hobey (Game On).

Didi was the lone figure taking on the BJP which had a star-studded campaign with countless mammoth rallies by Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and a galaxy of the party's senior leaders.

For the last two months Modi focused on Bengal with all his might.

The prime minister has been accused of being caught unawares by the devastating COVID-19 second surge due to his preoccupation and obsession with winning the Bengal election.

While the BJP is putting up a brave front and maintaining it has done well winning 77 seats considering it had a mere 3 in the legislative assembly 5 years ago, there is clearly huge disappointment as the party had set itself a highly ambitious target of 200 seats.

With the Left Front-Congress wiped out, the BJP is taking solace in the fact that it will now be the real alternative to the TMC in Bengal.

What went wrong with the BJP campaign?

Besides not having cadres on the ground to match the TMC's strength, the BJP failed to detect the pulse of the Bengali voter.

The voter seems to have rejected the 'bohiragoto', the 'outsider' had scripted and enacted the entire campaign with an absence of local leaders.

And despite trying to appropriate Bengal's icons like Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Swami Vivekananda and Modi growing a Rabindranath Tagore-like beard, the electorate rejected a party they considered alien to its culture.

The TMC on the other hand was vocal about local: 'Bangla nijer mei kay chay (Bengal wants her own daughter).'

While the BJP's campaign repeatedly stressed on corruption, 'cut money', extortion and Muslim appeasement, clearly the electorate felt differently.

Bengal is certainly not ready for the BJP's brand of politics.

And an important factor for the BJP's unimpressive performance: The minority vote.

Bengal has a sizeable Muslim population, around 33% which appears to have voted for Didi.

The Left Front-Congress-Indian Secular Front, headed by Abbas Siddiqui, stands decimated.

Didi's recent populist welfare schemes yielded rich dividends for her.

Swastha Sathi, a Rs 5 lakh universal health insurance scheme, 20 lakh pucca houses, 100 English medium schools for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, the afternoon meal for just Rs 5.

There was also a frenetic distribution of old-age and widow pension to 15 lakh beneficiaries.

Just before the Election Commission's model code of conduct kicked in, the state administrative machinery worked overtime to issue 10 lakh caste certificates of scheduled caste/scheduled tribes within a month.

A task that would have in the normal course taken over a year.

Didi even fielded 96 SC/ST candidates, some even in non-reserved constituencies.

Another factor that has helped Didi is the woman voter.

The new promise of universal basic income of Rs 1,000 for women of SC/ST families and Rs 500 for women from other underprivileged groups.

It is believed that Didi has won 4% more female votes in the state.

It is a huge victory too for Didi's political aide Prashant Kishor.

Kishor, who had advised the TMC on initiatives like Didi kay bolo (Tell Didi your problems) and Duare Sarkar (Government at your doorstep), had maintained that 'TMC is winning and winning big.'

Maidul Islam, political scientist at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences in Kolkata, explains, "Typically Bengal always sees a winner takes all scenario. Right from 1972 (which was generally regarded a rigged election) to the last 10 elections in the state we have seen the winner getting a two-thirds majority. This is a trend in Bengal."

"Here, for the first time one single party is getting 49% which is a record of its own. Muslims are the most judicious electorate. They vote for the strongest party which will defeat the BJP. The TMC has got a large number of Dalit and Adivasi votes too. Welfare schemes have helped in a big way."

Khela Shesh is what the BJP had told Didi, but the verdict from Bengal has clearly established her as the tallest Opposition leader in the country.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

PAYAL SINGH MOHANKA