Expectedly, Mamata Banerjee’s All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) has returned to power in West Bengal. Yet, the scale of its triumph boggles the mind. The AITC has, in fact, tallied the maximum amount of seats ever won by a single party in West Bengal. The results, similarly, will baffle the surgeons of the Left-Congress alliance, for they had expected that the groundswell of support in the campaigning days will lead to substantive voting in their favour. What accounted for this optimism would continue to be a matter of debate.
The AITC was expected to do badly in Kolkata — either because the Bengali urban middle-class, as well as the media, had taken a strong stand against Mamata’s reckless, despotic posturing or because the other communities outside them would have shifted to the state-minnows, the BJP. But none of that mattered in the end. The AITC got all 11 seats in Kolkata and the BJP came a distant third, except one seat in which the alliance did not field a candidate.
The BJP’s overall vote share has increased since the last assembly elections in 2011 but has halved since 2014. It looks unlikely that the BJP will command any substantive political influence in Bengal in the near future.
Doubtlessly this is a verdict for Mamata, for the nature of her governance. It is less likely to have been a vote for her party, which has found itself repeatedly maligned in serious malpractices, graft charges, cronyism, arrogance and rampant hooliganism. But the chieftain has, somewhat cunningly, been able to alienate herself from her tribe’s overall disposition. This is despite the cringe-worthiness of her governing rhetoric, her blatant disregard for democratic functioning and almost no serious investment in the economy beyond hurriedly “painted” populism.
Clearly, these issues remain outside the purview and desire of rural Bengal, where Mamata enjoys the reputation of being the arch-commoner. What is less explicable is why the urban voters continue to vote for her. The effect of television-induced highfalutin polemic or media-soaked virtual activism has not marked itself in the cities, where the inglorious memory of the CPM’s decades-long blunderbuss seems to push the voter to finally align with the AITC. The greening of Calcutta attests to this unfailingly.
A reasonable expectation from part of the electorate, this time, was that a strong opposition would force Mamata to change her style of governance towards some democratic conformity, put pressure on her
to create new jobs, invest in education, economy, ecology and improve the state’s haggardly finances. But the results have made sure none of this would happen. Given the scale of her victory, Mamata is likely to unleash a wave of vendetta against local cadres of the opposition. So much for a historic win.
The West Bengal Left has truly been pushed to the wall. The local Left leadership went against historic wisdom and current national mood to tie up with the local Congress, as a means of declaring itself as an anti-dogmatic, practical faction of the Left. But the results have evidently benefited the Congress more than the Left, the former garnering numbers that can be called significant by its current standing in the Indian polity. The decimated Bengal Left will now find it difficult to consolidate itself without the Congress and with it, it is likely to fall foul of the national leadership, especially since the Left’s fortunes have improved against the Congress in Kerala.
There is already widespread criticism from the urban intellectual factions of the Left, who have termed the alliance as running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. The local Left leadership will continue to be pilloried for sticking their neck out of the quagmire of what can be called sickening Politburo pedantry but to stay relevant and useful, it has to make a series of meaningful decisions in the days to come. A shift in leadership and faithfully mobilising the current discontent among the disenfranchised, the young and the educated might be a possible way out but for that, the Left has to go back to an imagination of itself as beyond electoral tabulation, something that the CPM and its ilk have long forgotten to do.