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Decoding Bengal Verdict, 2021

By Dr Shashikant Pandey | PUBLISHED: 07, May 2021, 19:42 pm IST | UPDATED: 07, May 2021, 19:42 pm IST

Decoding Bengal Verdict, 2021
The much awaited Bengal Legislative Assembly election result, 2021 is announced and TMC has romped home with quite a convincing majority by even surpassing its own previous tally of 2014 and winning 213seats in its toughest electoral battle since its inception. BJP though performed well, if compared to its previous performance in 2016, remained short of what its leaders had set as a benchmark for itself i.e. Abki baar do sau paar. The most surprising element of this election is complete decimation of Left-Congress from Bengal politics which dominated the political scene of Bengal since its formation. Everybody including political analysts, pollsters, psephologists predicted that it would be tough fight between TMC and BJP. TMC under the strong leadership of Mamta Banerjee not only won third time in a row but increased its number of seats and percentage of votes. Many political analysts were of the opinion that alongwith anti-incumbancy factor, corruption, poor handling of Amphan cyclone, so called cut money, violence against political adversaries etc. may prove costly for Trinamool this time. Just before election, large scale desertion by Parliamentarians, ministers, legislators, party workers added misery to its woes.
On the other hand, BJP which performed extremely well in 2019 Lok Sabha election by winning 18 out of 42 seats with vote percentage of 40.6 percent left no stone unturned  as it has mastered the art of winning election. The entire top leadership of the BJP including Prime Minister Modi had held several rallies, padyatras and were confident about their first ever victory in West Bengal. However, the result for the BJP can be dubbed as somewhat mixed. On the one hand, it won 76 seats, an exponential rise from 3 to 76 from the previous election but on the other hand remained short of forming the government.
The election result has posed several questions as to what led to the decisive victory of Trinmool Congress. What went wrong with the BJP? Why people of Bengal completely disowned Left Front and Congress? This and several other questions remain to be answered.
Mamata Banerjee fought two previous elections against the mighty CPM, a cadre based party which had deep penetration in the entire state cutting across class, caste, region and religion and won with comfortable majority. This time the opponent was different and therefore it required a different strategy, planning, preparation and execution. BJP had already made deep inroads in Bengal by winning 18 Loksabha seats much to the disappointment of Trinmool Congress who became complacent and never took BJP seriously in 2019 Lok Sabha election. However, Once Lok Sabha election got over, TMC analyzed electoral outcome and worked hard to put its house in order despite having strong anti- incumbency sentiment as highlighted by several studies/media reports. They began micro managing each and every thing. The party worked at organizational level, changed many party functionaries at grass root level and tried to connect with the masses. A series of welfare schemes were started like “Duare Sarkar” (government at doorsteps) in December 2020. It was an outreach programme for doorstep delivery of government schemes. Benefits of 11 government run welfare schemes were provided to the people at their doorstep. They made sure that welfare schemes reaches the marginalized groups especially those who voted for BJP in Lok Sabha election like the Matua community. Additionally, in order to counter the IT cell propaganda machinery of the BJP Mamta Banerjee hired the services of Prashant Kishore who worked hard with the help of his team of young IT professionals and micromanaged everything.TMC remained very inclusive in distribution of tickets and had fielded 50 women candidates, 79 SC candidates, 42 Muslim candidates and 17 ST candidates. While distributing tickets to Muslim community, she gave them only 42 tickets whereas in the previous election they were allocated 57 tickets. The reason was to shed the image of Muslim appeaser and strike cord with the Hindu community. Similarly while distributing party ticket; fairly large numbers of new faces were given tickets while she denied tickets to some of its ministers. Additionally, she tried to play emotional card by saying that it’s a fight between daughter of Bengal versus outsiders who know nothing about Bengali culture and would play havoc with its cultural identity once they come to power and raised the question of Ma, Mati and Manush to assert Bengali identity. In her speeches, more often than not, she raised the question of outsiders versus locals thereby tried to woo voters in the name of Bengali asmita ( Identity) and projected BJP as an outsider. She very often concluded her speeches with “Joy Bangla” a Bengali nationalist slogan in order to counter BJP’s “Jai Shriram”. This is something new for Bengal politics as identity was rarely used as an explicit political framework in previously left- dominated Bengal politics.
Consistent attack on Abhijit Banarji, her nephew could hardly become an issue and TMC supporters considered it as a personal attack on Mamta Banarji and his family.  In other words, BJP failed to read the minds of people of Bengal. Her own track record as a leader with clean image and Spartan lifestyle remained unquestioned. 
However, Mamta Banerjee is somehow responsible for the emergence of BJP as she first fought election in alliance with them and later provided political space to them by announcing financial assistance to Maulvis, declaring immersion of Durga idols after Muharram, becoming furious after BJP workers chanted Jai Shri Ram. BJP capitalized on this and was able to mobilize Hindu voters to a large extent. However, she did course correction during the election by playing soft hindutava card by chanting Chandi Path, declaring her Gotra and tried to connect with Hindu voters. Her electoral performance clearly reflects that she has succeeded in her effort as she won votes from all sections. 

Coming back to the second question as to what went wrong with the BJP as it fancied itself as the next claimant to power. There are many reasons. There is no doubt that 2019 Lok Sabha election in Bengal is/will remain a turning point for the BJP and by winning as many as 77 seats in 2021 legislative assembly election and complete wiping out of Left and Congress from Bengal politics has made sure that BJP has firmly established itself in politics of Bengal.

Though BJP kept extending its reach through RSS and its own party workers; it somehow became complacent. It hardly went beyond Hindu - Muslim binary; making Muslim appeasement as an issue, personally attacking Mamta Banarji for nepotism and so on. Even though it raised issues such as corruption, poor governance but could hardly connect with the voters due to the lack of organizational presence as it remained fragile.In order to broaden its base, it indulged in horse trading and roped in many turncoats from TMC and Left Front to its fold at eleventh hour. Most of them were sure that they may lose Trinmool ticket and were looking for alternative. Unlike Subhendu Adhikari many of them had hardly any decisive presence in their respective constituencies as majority of them have lost election. 
Simultaneously, large scale induction of outsiders demotivated party supporters as well. BJP relied heavily on Matua, Migrants, Dalits and tried to woo the subaltern Hindu community. How much it succeeded can be analysed only when detail data is available. 
Another factor is non- performance of the Left- Congress and Indian Secular Front alliance. None of them could win even a single seat. Straight contest between TMC and BJP proved costly for the BJP as split could not take place especially among Muslim voters as they rallied around TMC solidly. However, consistent attack by BJP on Mamta Banerjee and making it a contest between Modi and Mamta proved costly for the BJP. Her core supporters took it as personal attack on her and along with Muslim and women voters rallied around her and BJP strategy of one size fits all proved costly for them.
As the election progressed, it got converted to a direct fight between Modi and Mamta as both attacked each other. BJP failed to read the minds of people of Bengal and Bengali sentiment as Mamta Banerjee was able to convince voters that BJP is a party of outsiders largely dominated by Hindi-speaking people. In fact insider-outsider binary went to the advantage of TMC. Even Modi could not connect well with rural masses as he was a non-bengali. Additionally, they had no local leader who could match up to the popularity of Mamta Banerjee. Then the CRPF firing and killing of four Muslim youths even when four rounds of polling were yet to take place also went against the BJP. 
The third and final point is what led to the complete rejection by voters of Left Front and Congress alliance and had to experience crushing defeat. There was nothing unusual about it as the graph of these parties were already all-time low. They failed to offer credible alternative even in 2016 General Assembly election when the contested together, and could win  only 74 seats. The core supporters of Left Front and Congress had already deserted them and they hardly did anything to bring them back into their fold. It is unfathomable that Left Front which ruled Bengal for 34 consecutive years could not win even a single seat despite being in alliance with Congress. Simlarly, Congress party seems in no hurry as it hardly made any serious effort to do some course correction like addressing organizational issues, strategy, grooming and nurturing regional leadership. Rahul Gandhi barely addressed two rallies and left party workers in lurch.  This reflects that both the parties have almost lost ground in Bengal politics and hardly doing any serious introspection in order to remain in the reckoning.
The inference which can be drawn from this electoral outcome is that Mamta Banerjee has emerged as a very strong and popular leader who has the ability to read the pulse of the people. There is also message for the BJP in this election. Even though they have performed well but in absence of strong local leadership, organizational presence they could not match up to the Trinamool Congress. Modi may be a strong factor and may have won many elections for the BJP in the past but different regions have region specific issues and therefore its strategy of one size fits all need to be reworked as different planning/strategy is required for different regions. 

#Dr. Shashikant Pandey is a Coordinator of Lokniti-CSDS, Uttar Pradesh