It was indeed “Khela Hobe” (Game On) for Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC) and “Khela Shesh” (Game over) for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in West Bengal after the results were declared for Assembly elections on Sunday. TMC registered an emphatic win for a third time, winning (or leading) 212 seats out of the 292 seats that went to polls in the state. Meanwhile, BJP failed to dislodge Mamata Banerjee from power after an intense polarising campaign in the state, winning (or leading) just 77 seats. In a major setback to the Left-Congress alliance, both parties drew a blank in the state.
Mamata Banerjee successfully took on the BJP’s aggressive campaign led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah with a battery of high profile leaders including the cabinet ministers from the saffron party stationed in the state for months.
“It is the victory of the people of Bengal, the victory of democracy. Bengal has saved India today. This landslide victory came after fighting against several odds – the centre, its machinery, its agencies,” Mamata Banerjee said.
Although she lost by 1956 votes in Nandigram to former protege-turned-BJP adversary Suvendu Adhikari, the 66-year old mercurial leader battled a deep anti-incumbency sentiment and hobbled through the entire state to take her party home.
She was also successful in projecting herself as the lone woman taking on the mighty BJP led by Modi and Shah amid deflections and betrayal from her party leaders while projecting BJP as the outsiders. Mamata’s image of one leg in a cast after an injury that saw her campaigning in a wheelchair also gave an edge to her over her opponents and succeeded in winning the sympathy of the voters.
She appealed to the sentiments of people by giving slogans such as 'Bangla nijer meyekei chay' (Bengal wants her daughter) which resonated with women. The women votes account for 49 per cent of the electorate and stood behind Mamata Banerjee. Mamata Banerjee women-oriented welfare scheme including Kanyashree and Rupashree that provide funds for education and marriage helped TMC to consolidate the women vote. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s repeated taunts of "Didi, O Didi" in his speeches also did not bode well with the voters.
The minority vote which constitutes about 30 per cent of West Bengal’s population and their votes are decisive in 100-110 of the 294 assembly seats firmly stood behind TMC this time around. TMC had feared that parties such as Asaduddin Owaisi's All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and Abbas Siddiqui's Indian secular Front (ISF), which had the potential to deal a blow to the TMC's minority support base, couldn’t divide the Muslim vote in the state. The Muslim community, even in the strongholds of Congress and the Left, also threw their weight around Trinamool.
The COVID-19 scare which started around during the last three-phase of the election also gave an edge to TMC. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah had to cancel their political rallies in the state after a national outrage, Mamata Banerjee kept on campaigning till the last phase. As COVID-19 cases surged in the country, Mamata Banerjee blamed the BJP leadership for its failure to handle the Covid situation in the country and had an advantage over BJP during the last phase of the election.
BJP, on the other hand, failed to capitalise on the anti-incumbency and relied too much on the religious polarisation which resulted in the saffron party even failing to cross the double-digit mark. Saffron party’s over-reliance on religious polarisation and not providing an alternative to people in terms of development also part an important in BJP’s defeat. BJP did not promote its manifesto and did not even declare a BJP candidate. The party also focused only on defeating Mamata Banerjee in Nandigram.
"The TMC won because of Mamata Banerjee. It seems people have chosen Didi. We will introspect what went wrong, whether it was organisational issues, lack of face, insider-outsider debate. We will see what went wrong," said Kailash Vijayvargiya, BJP''s national general secretary in charge of West Bengal.
Meanwhile, the Left and Congress alliance created history on Sunday after the alliance failed to win even one seat. This is the first in West Bengal’s history that Assembly will have no representation from the Left or the Congress. Even months before the dates for the election were declared, the West Bengal Assembly election considered to be more of a direct fight between the BJP and the ruling TMC. The Left Front which ruled the state for more than 30 years did not even consider to be a challenger in the state and this showed their dire fortunes in the West Bengal election. Congress also gave a walkover to TMC with most of the senior leaders staying away for most parts of the West Bengal Elections.
The victory for Mamata Banerjee, by far the biggest mass leader since Jyoti Basu who ruled West Bengal for more than 30 years, will help fortify her position at the national level where voices from the opposition are getting feeble with time. TMC’s emphatic win in West Bengal will provide hopes to opposition parties that BJP is not invincible and can be defeated.