It was Satyajit Ray’s 100th birthday on May 2nd. If the legendary filmmaker would have been alive, he would have been a much happier man today. Seeing that the lofty ideals that he and his cinema always countenanced for aren’t fully lost, would have given him some sigh of relief. He would have been a proud Bengali too –gleefully applauding the pragmatic voters of his home state, who not only have rescued themselves from a greatly traumatic fascist rule but have also influx some amount of hope and optimism to the Indians at large, manifesting that the things might have gone bad but aren’t worse yet – there might be a degree of chance here, probably a room for correction and eventually some scope for redemption but only if we fight spiritedly as well as tactically.
Bengal election or the Mission Bengal, as the BJP was terming it till now, was undoubtedly the most important balloting since the General Elections of 2019. For BJP it held a lot of significance for a range of reasons. Way back in 2012-13, the years which in many ways initiated the magnetic rise of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Narendra Modi across the nation was also the time which witnessed the dramatic downfall of the Left and the Congress in Bengal. BJP saw this as a fortuitous event to gradually but very strategically raid the electoral politics in Bengal. A key national party and a challenger to UPA at the center by then, BJP was still very much at the back foot in Bengal. Even though Jan Sangh, the predecessor to the BJP and RSS, was founded by very popular Shyam Prasad Mukherjee – a premier Bengali barrister, still it never really posed any serious threats to any of the principal parties in the state. But under the leadership of Modi, BJP had a chance to overturn its fortunes. And hence began the Operation Expansion. While Modi took the centre stage, Sangh’s cadre mostly worked on the ground, day and night, for years, in widening its Hindutva roots. The government of Mamata Banerjee (TMC), popularly referred to as Didi, was according to the BJP, putative of appeasement politics. Its so-called welfare policies only benefited the Muslims while the Hindus of the state were sidelined and inflicted with abominable atrocities by the state machinery. They were occasions when she, by the top BJP commanders, was termed as the Jihadi Didi. Modi even alleged her of illegal infiltration of Bangladeshi Muslims and promised that his party when bestowed with power will ensure that all the unwanted intruders are very well “thrown” out of Bengal.
BJP’s divisive politics yielded great results. In the Lok Sabha elections of 2019, BJP to everyone’s surprise put up a dazzling display of triumph. It increased its seat as well as vote share significantly. Winning 18 seats (in 2014 it just got two), while TMC underperformed, reducing its tally from 34 to just 22 in 2019. There were scenes of celebration in the Bengal BJP camp – the much-needed saffronisation of the state was slowly becoming the reality. Political analysts predicted that it might get difficult for Didi in 2021 to save her state from what they called a “Modi 2.0 tsunami”. And verily they were right. The results of 2019 were testament to the fact that he was very fluently connecting with the masses of Bengal. He had already promised Bengal of CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) to wipe out the illegal infiltrators and the very existent incumbency against TMC will eventually be the governing factors that will lead to the downfall of Didi. For her, reclaiming back her state – despite the strong surge of resentment among voters for TMC would be equal to challenging the leadership of the mighty Modi-Shah. She was up for the upheaval task. And for BJP winning Bengal will only supplement their dominance over the Indian electorate further. Thus, the stage was set for Mission Bengal: 2021.
BJP went all guns blazing. Shah took over the position of poll strategist, summoning around a total of 50 public meetings. For the last three months, all the supreme leaders – Adityanath, Goyal, Gambhir, Chakraborthy, and Irani of BJP were permanently stationed in Bengal. Locals reported of several chartered planes, helicopters flying in and out of Kolkata on regular basis. The IT cell, chaired by Amit Malviya migrated to Kolkata. It also virtually opened its offices across the length and breadth of the state. Elections were not only fought on the ground but also on social media outlets, where TMC and its top leadership were regularly abused and condemned for several obvious reasons. A lot of money went into the election. Despite the onset of the second wave of the deadly Covid, the Election commission designed a lengthy eight-phase poll, giving ample time to BJP leaders for their door-to-door campaign. Hence as many as 20 rallies were addressed by Modi. Every other central organization (ED, CBI) was made to run after Banerjee and her allies for allegations of coal smuggling, corruption, etc. A wave was created all over the nation of BJP finally after years of struggle, bagging Bengal. Several exit polls predicted a neck-to-neck fight between Didi and Modi; others speculated a hard-fought win for the latter. Alas, the final results weren’t as what was popularly presumed – a mere one-sided affair.
Didi’s TMC swept Bengal; bagging 48% of the vote and around 73% of seats. The final tally on the night of 2nd May closed at TMC winning 213 seats (its best ever), BJP emerging as the only opposition party wiping out the votes of the Left and Congress, with 77 seats. The performance by BJP was indeed not that inferior, it had remarkably increased its seats from what it had got in 2016 ie a single digit 3. But given the number of resources and energy it had incurred just on a state election, anything below gaining the majority would have been a source for major debasement. And for this, the credit goes to a single lady, who solely ensured that her state was protected at any cost. The question arises that how did Banerjee achieve this stupendous feat? The answers are many.
Banerjee, in her response to the high-decibel campaign by Modi-Shah men, played the underdog card. She did what Modi came up in the elections of 2014, or more recently what made Kejriwal succeed in the 2020 Delhi elections. Modi’s active involvement in a state poll made it more of an event and less of an election. Modi took it on himself to make sure BJP easily crosses the winning post, from addressing record meetings in a day to personally targeting the TMC and Didi; ironically did wonders for Banerjee. This allowed her to play the “less known, undervalued politician” tactic – claiming that so many alpha males are out in the middle to defeat a single lady. In addition, during the early days of campaigning, she injured herself which further stimulated the “victim card”. She toured the rest of the campaign in a wheelchair – symbolic of her grit and resolute to fight against all the odds.
In her effort, she was supported by the popular poll strategist Prashant Kishore and his I-PAC (India Political Action Committee). Kishore personally designed the campaign of Didi – modeling it as an insider versus outsider election. He coined the very effective slogan Bangla Nijer Meyekei Chai (Bengal only wants its daughter) calming that Bengal is being raided by the influential politicians of Delhi and its Didi who will save the state from outsider’s invasion. In defiance of Sangh’s “One Nation, One Ideology”, she called the election as a fight to restore federalism in the country. Further, he and Banerjee launched public-centric ventures such as Didi ki bolo, Duare Sarkar, which gained a lot of popularity among the voters of the state. Modi personally taking gibe of her by catcalling “Didi-oo-Didi” didn’t gel well with the women of the state – a section of the population that is one of the major contributors to the winning of TMC.
BJP’s politics of Hindu-Muslim didn’t bear any fruit either as TMC not only consolidated as many as 37 of total 47seats in Muslim dominating areas – North, South Dinajpur, Murshidabad, and Malda but also did exceedingly well in pro-Hindu areas, that of Calcutta, Howrah, Hooghly, among others. BJP’s failure in managing the second wave of the Covid is also one of the central reasons for its loss in the state. Around 114 seats went into balloting in the last three phases of the election, Didi managed to secure its power over 90 of these. Lastly, in retrospect, Didi’s decision to take on the challenge posed by the Sangh and BJP – Khela Hobe, by making her fight the election from other than her regular constituency ie from Nandigram, showed how confident she was of winning the election. Though she may have lost her own seat, her fierce body language and courageous attitude to single-handedly taking on possibly the biggest party in the country today, inspired the rest of her cadre as well filled the people of Bengal with immense pride that they have a leader like Didi to oversee their state.
If BJP, in the middle of this pandemic, could have somehow managed to tackle the Bengal challenge effectively, it would have been a much “high on morale” win. It could have used the win in Bengal as proof to slam its critics that people are very much content with how the national party is tackling the corona crisis. But that didn’t happen, on the contrary, the humiliating defeat is making a lot of election pundits contemplate that this BJP’s loss is very much synonym to something that UPA had tasted in Uttar Pradesh in 2012. Congress in 2009, to much surprise did very well in UP, predicting that it might win or at least give a tough fight to its competitors in the state assembly election of 2012. But by then it was loaded with charges of corruption and scams, there was a strong anti-UPA undercurrent across the nation, all it could do was just win a mere 28 of 403 seats. The comparison may not be fully right but is indeed inevitable.
A lot of analysts are also viewing this win as an opportunity for the opposition parties to come together and form a Federal Front, challenging BJP’s leadership at the center. But there is still a lot that opposition in this country has to win before posing any serious danger to Modi’s statesmanship. There’s still Hindi heartland left to vow, still a ruinous virus to tackle. As of now, Didi’s back to power, for the third consecutive time, the only women Chief Minister in the country today. After registering a record win against the Modi-Shah-led BJP, her state for the last two days is burning. There have been severe incidents of post-poll violence, with shops and houses being mercilessly put on fire and people running to save their lives, this is surely not for which is she has been called back to power by the people of Bengal. There have been mixed reports as far as the real culprit of the bloodbath is concerned, some suggesting it’s an intra-BJP tussle while others report that the BJP and Left leaders are being attacked by TMC goons. No matter whom, Didi, should immediately step-in, and take immediate steps to stop the violence. It’s high time that she steps in and proves how worthy she is of the victory she has been entrusted with. After all, winning elections shouldn’t be her only concern but protecting her citizens should be. Khela is over now; time to do some work.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Brief Bulletin.