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Didi becomes the Dada of Bengal

Mamata Banerjee is all set to become Chief Minister for a third successive term. BJP looks like will be unable to further the gains of the 2019 general elections 

May 02, 2021 / 03:16 PM IST

The results for the West Bengal assembly elections are trickling in and the Trinamool Congress (TMC) looks all set to retain power despite battling 10 years of anti-incumbency, a Hindu awakening and lower caste consolidation in favour of the BJP. The exit polls have again gone wrong (after Bihar last year) as most of them predicted a close contest, and failed to pick this wave in favour of Mamata.

Mamata joins the league of Nitish Kumar, Naveen Patnaik and Arvind Kejriwal who have humbled Modi. Amit Shah and Modi invested a lot of political capital in the state leading the campaign and this result is a setback of sorts for the duo. The two jointly held 51 rallies / road shows covering all districts of the state.

While the satisfaction levels with Mamata government was low (less than 50 percent in Axis survey), her individual popularity remained high. She led the “who would be the best CM” ratings across surveys. She carried the campaign on her shoulders making it a sort of Presidential contest against Modi.

By 1:30 pm, the TMC was leading in 202 seats with 48.5 percent vote share while the BJP was trailing with 77 seats and 37.5 percent vote share. The chief minister herself was trailing in a high pitched battle in Nandigram against former aide Suvendu Adhikari by close to 4,000 votes after Round 3.

To win elections, the BJP needed to make a dent in the TMC vote bank and strong regions, with the Left and the Congress bottoming out in 2019.

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How Mamata won?

The Muslim – Mahila combination has propelled Mamata to cross the half way mark. The high pitch and polarised campaign with the BJP breathing down the TMC’s neck, has led to consolidation of minorities behind the TMC with 75 percent voting for the party as per the Axis exit poll (+12 percentage points compared to 2019). Muslims account for more than 35 percent of the population and influence outcome of 95 seats out of 294.

The Indian National Congress has been completely decimated, leading in a single seat out of its strongholds of Malda, Murshidabad and Uttar Dinajpur. In the Malda region, the TMC was leading in 32 and the BJP in 14 seats. The Congress had won majority of these seats in the 2016 assembly elections. It had openly claimed the BJP was enemy number one. Was there a tacit deal between Mamata and Rahul who hardly campaigned in the state citing COVID as a reason?

The TMC has gained 5 percentage points in vote share compared to the 2019 general elections, and this seems to have come from a further decline in Sanyukta Morcha’s support base. The party also has succeeded in pulling away a small chunk of Hindu voters (Matuas, Tribals) away from the BJP.

Mamata’s campaign of ‘Bengal’s own daughter’, her popular schemes for women like 'Kanyashree Prakalpa', 'Rupashree Prakalpa' and 'Sabooj Sathi' played a decisive factor.

The TMC promised the implementation of a “Monthly Basic Income” scheme whereby the “women heads of families” will be entitled to a stipend of Rs 500 - 1,000 (per month), which seems to have clicked with the state’s 40 million voters. The constant taunt of ‘Didi o Didi’ by the PM seems to have backfired.

Why the BJP lost

BJP’s overdependence on Modi harmed the party’s prospects. It didn’t have candidates for all seats and gave tickets to 130 turncoats from other parties relying mainly on the top leadership’s campaign.

The increase in coronavirus cases curbed Modi’s rallies in the last three phases accounting for 114 seats and thus restricted its campaign, demoralizing party workers and leaders. These seats were mainly in TMC’s stronghold of South Bengal where the BJP needed to make a dent.

While the party is doing well in rural seats, the BJP failed to debunk the rich culture/heritage/ insider versus outsider campaign of the TMC especially in the urban and semi-urban seats. The Bengali asmita factor worked for the TMC. The rising cases of coronavirus in Bengal and Mamata’s accusation that the BJP is responsible for the same clicked with the urban audience which were impacted.

The BJP’s organisational weakness in Bengal came into play and the party could not capitalise on the good work done by the RSS on the ground. Probably, the party failed to take into account the regional dynamics of Bengal (class versus caste, exceptionalism, regional pride) and will have to re-think the template of campaign it applies to all states with the same brush.

As Didi emerges as Bengal’s Dada, it is also clear that it is the regional parties that continue to challenge the BJP and are increasingly taking over from the Congress as the main opposition.
Amitabh Tiwari is a former corporate and investment banker-turned political strategist and commentator. Twitter: @politicalbaaba. Views are personal.

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