New Delhi: The Trinamool Congress (TMC) will hold on to power in West Bengal, as it is currently leading in 214 of the state’s 294 seats. The BJP is leading in 75 seats. The Left Front appears to have largely disappeared from the state’s assembly.
West Bengal witnessed a painstakingly long assembly election this year. As India was in the grip of a devastating second wave of COVID-19, the eight-phase poll from March 27 to April 29 was seen by many as a possible “superspreading” event.
Yet, the stakes were high for both the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) and aspirant Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which wanted to form its first government in a state which has successively revolted against the Hindutva agenda that the saffron party propagates.
A party needs to cross the half-way mark of 147 in the 294-member assembly to form the government – a benchmark the TMC has easily crossed.
Ever since the BJP won 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah-led party had been planning a takeover in the state that likes to pride itself in its so-called cultural and political exceptionalism. It had made unprecedented inroads then, and hoped to consolidate its gains by ousting the dominant TMC in the assembly polls.
The run-up to the polls were particularly high-pitched. The TMC advanced its multiple welfare benefits for the poor, and pegged the polls as a war between “Bengali” TMC and “Bahiragato” BJP. The saffron party, on the other hand, invested all its resources to attack the alleged misrule and cronyism by the ruling party. At the same time, it used its novelty in the state as a promise for employment and industrialisation.
Sensing that the 30% Muslim population may consolidate behind the TMC to stave off its surge, the BJP attempted to polarise the electorate on religious lines by employing a mix of tactics to stoke and strengthen the prevailing anti-incumbency sentiments on the ground. While in some of the districts bordering Bangladesh the saffron party used its tried-and-tested anti-Muslim politics, in most other regions of the state, it relied mostly on its narrative of employment generation and TMC’s misgovernance as its primary plank.
It was helped by other opposition forces like the Left Front, Congress and Abbas Siddiqui-led Indian Secular Front, all of whom directly or indirectly amplified BJP’s campaign against TMC’s alleged corrupt and highhanded regime.
The TMC tried to neutralise resentment against it by appointing the political strategist Prashant Kishor, who virtually functioned as the primary decision-maker for the party over the last two years. On his instructions, the party removed 60% of its district leadership, carried out a campaign targeting the BJP as an “outsider”, and eventually nominated his favourite candidates in the fray.
The third front, comprising Left Front, Congress and ISF, in the process, was reduced to a non-entity, turning the contest a polarised, bi-polar contest between the TMC and BJP.