With more than 200 seats, the Trinamool Congress has defeated the Left Front-Congress alliance comprehensively as the poor, both from the rural and urban areas, backed Mamata Banerjee as their chief minister.
The so-called unpredictability of the West Bengal elections turned out to be a damp squib as the incumbent Trinamool Congress (TMC) stormed back to power with more than a two-thirds majority.
At the time of writing, the TMC was well-cushioned with more than 210 seats in its kitty (both leads and wins), with the Left Front-Congress lagging behind, at a distant 77. The TMC did well across the state, including in the areas where it was considered organisationally weak. Poll observers have therefore called the results a clear case of positive voting.
The victory assumes added significance, as nearly the entire opposition united against the TMC and accused Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for her apparent high-handedness in running the state government. Even the BJP, which presented itself as the alternative to both the political fronts, towed this rhetoric.
The abysmal performance of the Left Front-Congress combine or the Joat, many say, is indicative of the fact that the counter-ideological alliance was perceived by the masses as opportunistic and, therefore, lacked political credibility. The result also suggests that the middle class disillusionment with the TMC government, so pronounced during the campaign, did not matter at the electoral stage.
The only silver lining for the Joat, however, is not for the Left but for its smaller partner, the Congress. The Congress is dominant only in around 50 seats, mostly concentrated in Malda and Murshidabad in central Bengal. But because of the alliance with the Left, it could contest 90 seats. As the Left ended up losing most of its seats, the Congress did well to retain most seats in its strongholds and also gained in the traditional Left strongholds. As a result, the Congress has emerged as a bigger partner in the Joat with 44 seats, and with at least 10 more than the Left it has left its coalition partner in a humiliating position. “Congress leading the Left is one of the most important imports of the result. The Congress gained from the alliance while the Left Front got relegated to the third position. The hypocrisy of fighting the corrupt, anti-people Congress government in Kerala and garlanding the Congress leadership in Bengal has been punished by the people,” economist and former CPI(M) member Prasenjit Bose told The Wire.
After the BJP garnered around a 17% vote share in the 2014 parliamentary polls – a significant rise from its 6% share in the 2011 assembly polls – both Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had been eying to get a foothold in West Bengal. Shah had appointed BJP General Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya as the state-in-charge. Vijayvargiya had earlier proved his mettle by assuring a BJP win in Haryana despite a weak organisational presence in the state. In the last two years, the BJP’s campaign in Bengal had been eerily similar to its canvassing in the UP after the Muzaffarnagar riots. Just like in UP, the BJP tried to project the TMC government as ‘pro-Muslim, anti-Hindu’ in its attempt to consolidate the Hindu vote, while at the same time offering the ‘Gujarat Model’ as an alternative on the economic front. In the districts bordering Bangladesh, the BJP had also raked up the illegal immigration issue. The party was particularly active in areas that witnessed communal riots in the last two years – Asansol, Siliguri, Malda, Alipurduar and Nadia.
A cursory look at the result shows up that the BJP has been adequately successful in its campaign. In all the areas that had been in the news for communal offensives, the BJP has done well. It won in three constituencies – Kharagpur Sadar (West Midnapore), Baishnabnagar (Malda) and Madarihat (Alipurduar). All these constituencies have a sizeable Muslim population and the consolidation on religious lines helped it get a majority of Hindu votes. Similarly, it has done extremely well in terms of votes in many seats of Asansol, West Midnapore, Malda, Birbhum and Murshidabad, where it either finished a close second or third. Until the last elections, the BJP had never been in such a tight contest. Clearly, the BJP strategy in Bengal seems to be working on ground. Its ally Gorkha Janamukti Morcha won all the three hilly constituencies in Darjeeling, taking the NDA tally to six. Poll pundits had predicted that the BJP vote share may go down to its previous figure of 6% as the Joat has neutralised it to a large extent.
The Joat hoped to gain from the BJP’s loss but this has clearly not happened. The BJP’s vote share came down to 10.3% but was not substantial enough to either improve the Joat’s performance or dampen the TMC’s prospects. Given the fact that Bengal has always seen a polarised election in the last few decades, the BJP can only gain confidence out of the result.
The Left’s unprecedentedly disastrous performance can be understood from the fact that its chief ministerial candidate Surjya Kanta Mishra lost from his constituency, Narayangarh, by almost 15000 votes to little-known TMC leader Prodyut Ghosh. Similarly, bigwigs of the Left, like former Industry Minister Rabin Deb and eight-time member of parliament Radha Krishna Dom, lost from their respective constituencies. In both Nandigram and Singur (Rabin Deb’s seat), the Left lost by huge margins. In the Howrah and Hooghly urban districts, the Joat could not win even a single seat. These are districts where middle class disillusionment against the TMC was perceived as high. In its supposed bastion of north Bengal, in three districts (Jalpaiguri, Cooch, Alipurduar), the CPI(M)-Congress combine has won only two out of twenty seats. The only solace the Joat can derive from the result is that it managed to defeat two corruption-tainted ministers – Sport and Transport Minister Madan Mitra, who is in jail, and Backward Communities’ Development Minister Upen Biswas. The Left lost almost a 4% vote, down from around 30% in 2014, while the Congress improved its vote share from around 9% in 2014 to a little more than 12%.
The TMC threw up a completely contrasting picture. All the prominent leaders won with huge margins, despite a triangular contest in many seats. This goes on to show that a majority of the rural poor and also a large section of middle class is with the TMC. “TMC showed a lot of nervousness during the later phases of polls. But its strength reflects from the fact that its supporters mobilised people on the ground when they realised their party might be in danger.” said Kolkata-based political scientist Ranabir Samaddar. The TMC’s victory can be mapped from the fact that it increased its vote share from around 39% in 2014 to more than 45%. This, despite the fact it was fighting against a combined opposition. The CPI(M) even in its heydays could not win these many seats without the help of its allies.
Reacting to the TMC’s decisive victory, Banerjee thanked the people of the state and promised to take forward the march of poriborton (change) that she and her party had initiated in 2011. The overwhelming majority for the TMC clearly indicates that the Kolkata opinion or the view of the urban intelligentsia has lost its value when it comes to determining the electoral result. The rural poor, now the deciding factor in the state’s politics, came together to support the TMC. The over-powering of the Left in rural Bengal indicates that Banerjee focus on rural development as opposed to the ‘industrialisation drive’ pursued by the Left seems to have worked remarkably.