Mamata Banerjee campaigned mostly with a plastered leg on a wheelchair and picked up all the sentiments required to translate into votes. [Image: Reuters]
The BJP’s loss in the Bengal assembly elections is the party’s biggest facepalm moment that has pushed the cash-rich party to wonder if everything went wrong in a state where it was even finalising a list of possible CM candidates.
Political cognoscenti are now comparing the party’s high voltage campaign to the astonishing defeat of Lord Rama at the hands of his own sons, Lava and Kusha, after the duo emerged from their cottage to stop their father’s white stallion that was meant to roam and conquer the nation at will following the Ashwamedha Yagna.
Such was the shame that the party could not even hype its victory in the prestigious Nandigram assembly seat where its prized catch Suvendu Adhikari defeated Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee by a thin margin.
In Bengal, it was all about BJP’s loss and BJP’s shame.
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Banerjee addressed her supporters outside her Kalighat home in total calm, and even addressed a press conference. What was interesting was the Election Commission first declared Banerjee the winner, and then retracted it and said Adhikari was the winner. Banerjee, expectedly, said she would go to court to challenge the verdict.
Still, the BJP could not celebrate a landmark win over Banerjee. The party, which once boasted it would get 200 seats in a 294 seat assembly (elections were held for 292 seats), was struggling to cross the halfway mark. Even hours before the start of counting, Union minister Babul Supriyo replied on Facebook that he was sure of winning when someone asked what would happen in the event of a defeat.
“I won’t lose, but even if I lose what you want from your heart I will go back to being a happy man because I heard what my conscience said and acted,” Babul said.
It is now emerging that the BJP had little ground support and always looked to the skies for the big buck victories because it had PM Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and the entire NDA cabinet backing the party. On the other hand, Mamata Banerjee campaigned mostly with a plastered leg on a wheelchair and picked up all the sentiments required to translate into votes.
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“There were bickerings, serious bickerings throughout the campaign. What the leaders said was not exactly what the people believed,” said a BJP worker who did not want to be named. He said the party’s final tally of 77 was credible only because it’s previous tally in 2016 assembly elections was 3. Even 77 seats in the assembly will not change BJP’s fortunes in the state.
At a press conference on Sunday, May 2, 2021, Banerjee told journalists that it was a “people’s victory”.
So, what went wrong with the BJP? The party could not handle Banerjee.
Banerjee, despite pressures and taunts, remained a thorn BJP could not handle. She made it clear to the masses in Bengal that regional aspirations cannot be steamrolled by a single ideology. She showed everyone why India is in urgent need of a leader who could take on the PM and his band of brothers on every single day and demand accountability for leading the country into an abyss.
She asked why the polls were extended for over a month and why there was such massive deployment of Central forces. She also pointed out the slow procurement of vaccines by the Centre.
It was like a single, fleet-footed Diego Maradona taking on a bunch of defenders near the penalty box.
“The BJP often lampoons TMC, I am sure Didi will give them a befitting reply,” TMC MP Mimi Charaboarty once told this reporter during an interview.
The Trinamool Congress worked on the regional pride factor, BJP had none. Worse, the party could not even put forward a single name for the CM’s chair. There were intense speculations in the Indian Capital how four to six top BJP leaders were clamouring for the CM’s chair without realising they had virtually no political base in the state.
BJP’s hop, skip and jump politics was like sending a blind elephant charging into the opposition without realising the pitfalls of jungle warfare. The party said it understands Bengali culture but sent an insensitive person as Viswa Bharati’s vice chancellor who messed the show right from the word go. The news of his arrogance spread like wildfire. BJP lost the plot almost overnight.
The BJP tried hard to rope in former Indian skipper Saurav Ganguly, probably because it felt it had helped him become the BCCI president overnight. The move did not work, the party eventually got Mithun Chakraborty, a near leftover artist who made a mess of his appearance by saying he is a venomous King Cobra.
In Kolkata, BJP workers shouted Jai Shree Ram slogans at an event where both Modi and Banerjee were present to honour Netaji Subhas Bose on his birth anniversary. It was totally unnecessary. The BJP harped a lot on its founder Shyama Prasad Mukherjee but did nothing to repair his home, plans for a library and a study centre remained mostly in files.
“You cannot fight an election just because you have the PM and his cabinet on your side,” said Ashesh Sengupta, a senior writer who runs a conversational platform, Kathopokathon.
Banerjee convinced her voters that compassion and empathy are her key qualities and politicians who do not have these two qualities do not stand a chance. Banerjee in her rallies repeatedly talked about the decline of India’s democracy. It was like a mother explaining to her children that only she can guarantee peace by fighting the storm raging outside.
The BJP had Modi and his trusted lieutenant, Amit Shah, on its side and also UP CM Yogi Adityanath but no one was seen as the Pied Piper of Hamlin. They came, they saw and they left. The UP CM messed the show by saying people without valid documents will be shunted out of the state, the words consolidated the Muslim votes against the party.
In repeated meetings, BJP leaders talked about their Sonar Bangla campaign or the promise to turn Bengal into an El Dorado but could not explain what it actually means. The BJP leaders repeatedly said it will follow the Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas but could not earn the much needed vishwas of voters who kept on wondering what would happen if TMC sweeps the show. No wonder they majorly walked into the Ma, Maati, Maanush camp.
At the same time, Banerjee continued to talk about her small schemes in the countryside, which worked wonders with gullible villagers and those in Tier II and Tier III towns. Banerjee proved once again she was a root woman and no Oxford-educated candidate or half-baked film stars could upset the TMC applecart.
Time and again, top BJP leaders like Dilip Ghosh made disparaging remarks, triggering furore in the state. Ghosh wanted to change his rustic image and even started playing golf but continued to spew venom against people, especially women. Such was his arrogance that once a senior BJP leader messaged a journalist in Delhi, saying “Ghosh is like Dolce Gabbana (DG), one of its kind. He will not change.”
It was clear to Bengal that BJP has come with a Big Brother attitude, it has no interest to serve the state. And the fear of Ghosh as the Big Boss of the state was totally unfathomable to many in the state.
Worse, the bulk of the BJP half-Bengali language campaign totally revolved around anti-Mamata slander. Little did the party realise that Banerjee’s campaign of Banglar Meye (Bengal’s daughter) was a clever one as she planked herself as a target of outsiders, which helped the TMC pocket chunks of women’s votes. It was all about regional pride, a plank which had once helped Modi win a number of elections as the Gujarat CM.
In short, Banerjee had no real opposition except the BJP’s big bag of resources and top leaders. BJP’s inability to bring corruption cases in Bengal to a logical end also proved to be the party’s nemesis. Cases of ponzi scheme corruption, cut money scandals, coal scam and illegal cattle smuggling did not reach any logical conclusion. Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek openly challenged BJP to take action against him. The saffron brigade’s silence only bolstered the hopes of TMC supporters.
The TMC consolidated the minority vote, it was a shame that the BJP could not consolidate the Hindu votes. The minority votes of the Left Front and Congress also went to TMC, it pushed the party to greater heights. The BJP, which had the momentum in Bengal since the 2019 Lok Sabha elections when it won a large number of Lok Sabha seats, simply failed to tap the anti-incumbency sentiment against Banerjee, given a sheer lack of organisation on the ground.
In 2019, the BJP led in 121 assembly segments in Bengal. In 2021, the saffron brigade hoped the anti-incumbency factor would take it beyond 147. But it did not work. The party could just not encash the disillusionment many had with TMC and secondly, its worker strength in Bengal was not even a patch on its power in Uttar Pradesh, even MP or Jharkhand.
The BJP wanted to work on the gains of 2019 to wrest power in 2021, not realising it took TMC 12 years to outsmart the Left Front in 2011 after Banerjee lost two elections. The BJP thought of the Modi factor as the game changer but it did not work.
Three factors went against the BJP.
The huge deployment of Central Forcers sent a wrong signal to voters in the state that Modi, not the Election Commission, was taking the calls. Secondly, the injury sustained by Banerjee in Nandigram on March 10, worked to her advantage. She campaigned in a wheelchair and blamed the BJP. She regained her image of a fighting fit woman. Many in Bengal did not like Modi’s remarks of Didi O Didi, it was totally unacceptable to women who threw everything behind Banerjee.
And finally, the Sitalkuchi firing incident on the day of the fourth phase of polling when four Muslim boys were killed in firing by Central forces helped Banerjee to rally the Muslim voters. She suddenly emerged as the sole survivor of the minority community. The Congress’s tactical withdrawal from Malda, Murshidabad and Dinajpur, where it had won 26 seats in 2016, hinted towards a secret pact between 10, Janpath and TMC.
BJP continued to paint the big canvass without realising small issues often turn fortunes in elections. The party wanted to a powerful challenger, always arrived with police, loads of drummers and the backing of a powerful cabinet, and always asked Hindus to unite to counter TMC’s Muslim appeasement.
But the party was pushed to the ground like a prostrate, disembowell Gulliver by the TMC which worked mainly on sentiments.
Tart-tongued Banerjee, in her trademark white sari and sandals, has now emerged as a big opposition candidate with this victory.