Bengal’s voters say not surprised by results of assembly elections

TMC’s wheelchair-bound lone woman outwits BJP’s high-flying troika

Politics

May 5, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Bengal’s voters say not surprised by results of assembly elections

Mamata Banerjee won West Bengal elections with wide margin over BJP, taking 213 of 294 seats (Photo credit: PTI)

Despite deploying its most potent leaders, immense money power, mass defections and a completely servile Election Commission, the humiliation faced by the Bharatiya Janata Party in West Bengal may have surprised national media, but Bengal’s residents say the outcome had long been written on the wall.

Ultimately, a lone, wheelchair-bound woman proved more powerful than the heaviest of heavyweights of the biggest, and no-doubt the richest, political party in the world and the one which has been ruling India not only at the federal level but also most of the states for the past seven years.

Ever since its surprisingly strong performance in the Lok Sabha election in May 2019 when it won 18 of 42 seats in West Bengal, the party bosses, notably Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his right hand man, home minister Amit Shah, set their sights on capturing West Bengal in the ass embly elections.

Over the past two years, the party has spared no resource in achieving its ‘Mission Bengal’ and using its familiar machinations of identifying and enticing key leaders of Trinamool Congress to defect and use a pliant media as well as central investigative agencies like the Central Bureau of Investigation or Enforcement Directorate to pressure several senior aides of West Bengal chief minister and head of TMC, Mamata Banerjee, to switch sides.

Not wanting to take any chances with the outcome, the BJP ensured that a completely pliant Election Commission conducted the polls in the state in unprecedented eight phases, the longest-ever, even as polls in the equally politically sensitive Kerala was wrapped up in a single phase. Holding it for over a month allowed the BJP leaders, especially Modi and Shah, to visit on every polling day and campaign in an adjoining constituency.

Little wonder then, for the past year or so, the popular perception across India as well as the media coverage of West Bengal showed that it would be a very close contest and that Didi, as Banerjee is called in the state, was facing the toughest political battle of her life. The BJP leaders boasted of bagging over 200 seats in the 294-member house.

The same perception was not just maintained, but indeed reinforced, after the elections were over. All the exit polls pointed at a hung assembly with very close contests and both parties tied in 130-160 seats of 292. The poll of polls showed 141 for TMC and 138 for the BJP, so close was the call.

Thus, when the counting was over, it was egg on the face for not just the BJP leaders, but also the pollsters and the media as the ‘hotly-contested’ race turned out to be a stroll in the park for the TMC, which romped home with 213 seats, with the BJP way behind at a mere 77.

Pundits and Chanakyas lost the plot, but Bengal voters on ball

Despite all the dire predictions made all around, the people of Bengal say that they were not surprised over the results at all and pointed at several factors behind BJP’s dismal performance, especially the BJP government’s mishandling of coronavirus pandemic and its complacency and carelessness. “No, I was not surprised by the outcome. The inept handling of the second wave of Coronavirus pandemic by the BJP government in the middle of the election was a sure sign that things are not going to be in favour of BJP anymore. The blatantly communal agenda of the BJP and anti-Hindi speaking sentiments among Bengalis were other reasons behind the defeat,” says Ankit Singh, an IT professional in Kolkata.

Another Kolkata-based professional Anustup Roy Burman shares Singh’s views. “This outcome was not much surprising for me. The top three factors behind the TMC win were the fear of Bengalis of losing their independence and rights as well as worries over lack of social justice under a BJP government as well damage to the heritage and culture of Bengal’s society by a BJP government. People were worried that a BJP win may lead to such a situation,” he says.

However, there were some who were surprised by the outcome. Ajeet Singh, a school teacher in Kolkata is one of them. “Yes, I was surprised by the outcome cause the way BJP had put its efforts in conducting rallies after rallies, the result came as a surprise. The main factors according to me were firstly at the time of Amphan cyclone when the Centre had to release funds it delayed, secondly the minorities have a fear in their minds that if BJP comes to power then their freedom would be curbed and thirdly BJP should have invested more time and attention towards the pandemic situation rather than holding rallies,” he says.

Aditi Dutta, another teacher from Kolkata, too was surprised by the outcome. “Little surprised since the way BJP had carried on their campaign and the number of people who defected from other parties to join BJP showed that they were certain that the BJP would be the next ruling party,” she says.

A merchant navy official, currently on a ship overseas India, Zoheb Fazal Ahmed blames BJP’s performance in other states, the controversial farmer bills rushed through the Parliament by the Modi government last year as well as the failure to control the second wave of the pandemic.

Shayeri Bhadra, a teacher in Kolkata, says BJP paid the price for its attempt to polarise the voters on religious lines. “The other factors could have been the manner in which the PM tried to malign Mamata Banerjee and of course Mamata Banerjee has worked hard with many of her social welfare schemes which would have gone in her favour,” she adds.

Vote for Mamata or against BJP?

Most believe that Bengal voted for Mamata, rather than an anti-BJP vote, though some believe it could well be a mix of both. “This is a vote for Mamata Banerjee because if it would have been against BJP then if electoral count is considered Congress-CPM alliance would also have gained significant votes or at least TMC would not have won a landslide victory,” says Ankit Singh, the IT professional.

Aditi Dutta, however, believes otherwise. She says it was a vote roundly against Modi. “The vote in Bengal was a vote against Modi, at least for certain sections of the society like the Muslims. His demeaning the Muslims and giving too much privilege to the Hindus worked against him. Another factor that may have turned the people against Modi and the BJP was that at a time when the country faces a major health and economic crisis, the BJP leaders are jet-setting all around the country to campaign, instead of managing the state of the country where there is no availability of vaccines or hospital beds. To some extent, his pride was also the reason. He has started thinking himself to be supreme and that may not have been taken nicely by others,” she says.

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