The outcome of the West Bengal assembly polls has many firsts. The average winning margin of all the candidates in this election stands out at a record 26,964 votes, while the same for Trinamool Congress (TMC) candidates is 31,760 votes. This is a highest-ever average winning margin clocked by any party, in any assembly election in India.
Against this backdrop, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) average winning margin stands at 14,009 votes. In 2016, the TMC’s average winning margin was 22,226 votes, and in 2011 it was 20,495 votes. In 2006, the Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s comparable victory managed an average winning margin of 23,080 votes. (See Table Below)
In fact, the BJP’s performance remained suboptimal in West Bengal throughout the eight phases of polling. There was also a misplaced hype over the first three phases. Union Home Minister Amit Shah claimed that the BJP would win 26 of the 30 seats that had gone to polls in the first phase. In reality, the BJP won only 12 seats, while the TMC won the remaining 18. In the second phase too, the TMC led with 19 against the BJP’s 11. On April 6, the TMC domination was complete with the party winning 37 out of the 41 seats that went to the polls in the third phase.
In a nutshell, the West Bengal elections were a high-stake, winner-takes-all one, in which TMC leader and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee emerged as a one of the tallest leaders by delivering a comprehensive election victory in terms of quality and quantity. The TMC increased its tally of seats won, by two to 213 and its vote-share galloped to 48 percent. This victory was achieved against the BJP, which is believed to have the best election machinery in India.
Despite this, the BJP ended with 38 percent vote-share, it won 77 seats and became the principal opposition party in West Bengal. The Left-Congress combine was decimated to a mere 4 percent vote-share and won just one seat — this after both the parties put together have ruled the state for nearly 50 years after Independence.
The quality of the TMC’s win is worth detailing. This is the highest tally a party has won in the last 50 years, especially in an election where a proactive election commission and Centre ensured that the usual election-related malpractices associated with West Bengal elections — violence, booth capturing, etc. — were absent or minimal. However, the ugly post-poll violence is a pointer that the menace has not been eradicated.
A comparison of victory margins between the TMC and the CPI(M) over the years will reiterate how impactful is the TMC’s victory. In 43 seats the victory margin for the TMC has been more than 50,000 votes (Image above). In 2016, it was in 10 seats and in 2011 it was in just four seats. In 2006, the CPI(M) won in 22 seats with a margin of more than 50,000.
Over the years the TMC has also been reducing the number of smaller victory margins in constituencies. This time, in 13 seats its victory margin was less than 5,000 votes. It was 15 seats in 2016 and 18 in 2011. The CPI(M) in 2006 won by less than 5,000 votes in 30 seats.
On the contrary, the BJP’s numbers show a shallow picture. In this election the national party managed to maintain a victory margin of more than 30,000 votes in just five seats (three of them in north Bengal). In 31 seats the victory margin was between 5,001 and 10,000 votes, and in 22 seats it was less than 5,000 votes.
The BJP’s 77 seats come from mainly four regions: north Bengal, Nadia and North 24 Parganas, Purulia and Bankura, and, Purba Medinapur.
The above image shows a classical clustering of seats by the BJP which could thwart its growth to other areas of the state in times to come. Aggravating this problem is the ‘Purulia and Bankura’ region where much of the seats won were by less than 10,000 votes. Moving further east towards to Purba Medinapur, all the seats were won thanks to the efforts of Suvendhu Adhikari in conjunction with BJP. This makes this region beholden to Adhikari. The Nadia region is too polarised and consolidation of the Hindu votes in Murshidadbad, Malda, Nadia regions has worked out in favour of the ruling party dispensation. Consolidation of vote can cut both ways, like in cases where the anti-NDA votes have been split and gone largely to the CPI(M) and Congress, thereby helping the BJP.
This leaves north Bengal, where caste and sect are important factors that determine the way the region swings.
Such is a fragile nature of the BJP’s win, and this point is further validated if one looks at the electoral map below, where it gets clearly reflected that the BJP was able to win only those seats where the TMC was losing its votes share steadily since 2016, particularly in Purulia, Bankura and the Nadia region.
The timing of Banerjee’s victory has provided the non-BJP/NDA opposition a much-needed ‘booster’ of sorts. With Shiv Sena’s Udhav Thackeray in Maharashtra, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s MK Stalin in Tamil Nadu and Aam Aadmi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi (Prashant Kishor being a common link of having served as a political strategist for all of them), Mamata Banerjee has an opportunity to lead an informal group of chief ministers against the Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre on COVID-19 shortcomings, alleged shabby treatment meted out the states, misuse of central agencies and a range of other issues.
The battle for the 2024 general elections may get slightly more exciting and complex than 2014 or 2019.