Srinagar: On Sunday, May 2, when the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress was declared to have won the 2021 West Bengal Assembly elections, cheers were raised more than 2,000 km away by the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
While those without access to social media jubilated in the fact that Bengal had rejected the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), others went online to post memes mocking the BJP for its defeat and send messages of congratulations to the TMC chief and the voters of West Bengal. Some people even posted photos of Mamata Banerjee with a photoshopped kiss!
The BJP factor
For the people of J&K, the interest in the five assembly elections held this year was heartfelt. For example, author and journalist Gowhar Geelani spent most of Sunday on the phone, answering questions from friends and acquaintances about the election results of West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Assam and Puducherry.
“People in conflict-torn places like Kashmir are usually politically conscious and interested in political happenings across the globe,” said Geelani. “But this time, they were keen to see the divisive forces in India eat the dust in West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The defeat of the BJP in these states has brought smiles to their faces, even though nothing has changed for Kashmir.”
For many Kashmiris, Mamata Banerjee’s victory in West Bengal was by far the most exciting because she had strongly opposed the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill 2019, which had bifurcated the state into two union territories.
“Since Mamata spoke on our behalf, we wanted her to win and defeat the communal and divisive forces,” said Raashid, a university student.
Gowhar Geelani pointed out that the TMC’s victory in West Bengal also gave other political parties a reality check, showing them that a competent and able leadership can defeat powerful communal forces.
“The results in West Bengal are a lesson for J&K’s local mainstream political parties, such as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the National Conference (NC), who stood with communal forces and are now irrelevant,” said Geelani.
Many Kashmiris are happy when the BJP suffers a defeat, wherever the defeat might take place, said Professor Siddiq Wahid, historian and founding vice chancellor of the Islamic University of Science and Technology, Awantipora.
“Kashmir and West Bengal are two different scenarios but when an authoritarian person is challenged, people get a sense of relief and they start smiling,” said Wahid. “Also, divisive and communal politics has its limits and people will support a leader who recognises this, especially if it spells the defeat of a party that has concentrated solely on amassing money and centralising power.”
On May 2, Omar Abdullah, former chief minister of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir and vice president of the National Conference, tweeted: “Heartiest congratulations to @MamataOfficial didi & everyone at @AITCofficial for the remarkable victory in West Bengal. The BJP & a thoroughly partisan Election Commission threw everything including the kitchen sink at you & you prevailed. All the best for the next 5 years (sic).”
Mehbooba Mufti, former chief minister of J&K and president of the People’s Democratic Party, tweeted: “Congratulations to @MamataOfficial @AITCofficial @derekobrienmp on their splendid victory today. Kudos to the people of West Bengal for rejecting disruptive & divisive forces.”
Saifuddin Soz, senior Congress party leader and former Union minister, also congratulated Mamata Banerjee on her victory. In a statement he shared with The Wire, Soz said: “The West Bengal Assembly election results have shown to the world that democracy and secularism have to be recognised as core values of India’s social and political life. The win for Mamata Banerjee is surely a crushing defeat to communal forces.”
The statement continued: “Mamata Banerjee and her party have shown to the world that India will stay secular for all times to come. It is very unfortunate that the Election Commission of India has shown itself in an extremely poor light.”
Ghulam Ahmad Mir, chief of the Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee, said that the BJP had made West Bengal a battlefield in the run up to the elections.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah put the lives of 130 crore Indians at risk by ignoring a grave national health emergency for the sake of winning the West Bengal state elections, but the wise Bengalis rejected the politics of opportunism and communalism,” said Mir.
He added that the commitment of the voters of West Bengal to keep communal and divisive forces at bay should be a lesson for voters elsewhere.
Mir also congratulated the people of Tamil Nadu and Kerala for “rejecting the BJP and its political ambitions riding on its ideological and other tactics of power”.