In West Bengal, the rise of the Trinamool Congress and corresponding decline of the Left Front have been accompanied by the rise of personal leadership — almost amounting to a personality cult — of Mamata Banerjee. Her mercurial style, determination to fight the Left, and complete control over the party and government in the past five years testify to this personalisation of political power. And the Bengali voter does not seem to mind.
The TMC’s victory — and its scale — would not have been possible had it not been for Banerjee’s leadership. As per the findings of Lokniti’s post-poll survey for The Indian Express, while most voters (66%) voted either on the basis of their attachment to a particular party or by assessing the local candidate, among the significant few (15%) who said that they voted on the basis of a chief ministerial face, the TMC led the Left-Congress jote by an astounding 60 percentage points. What makes this finding even more significant is that among the 44% who said party was their main consideration, or among the 22% who said that local candidate was their main consideration while voting, the TMC actually trailed the Left-Congress alliance in terms of votes.
Clearly, the fact that Mamata Banerjee was the only clear Chief Ministerial face in the race, and that the Left-Congress combine did not really go all out in promoting Surjya Kanta Mishra as its CM face, seems to have made a significant difference to the final outcome. When survey respondents were asked who they wanted to see as the next CM, 38% said Banerjee, and only 12% said Mishra. The lead of 26 percentage points over her nearest rival was double that of 2011, when Banerjee led Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee by 13 percentage points.
The survey also found Banerjee to be slightly more popular than her government. While 57% of respondents said they were satisfied with the performance of the TMC government, a slightly higher 60% expressed satisfaction with Banerjee’s performance as Chief Minister.
Similarly, while 21% expressed complete dissatisfaction with her government’s performance, only 9% said that she herself had performed very badly as CM. This had not been the case in 2011, when Bhattacharjee’s performance as Chief Minister had been rated much more unfavourably than his government’s. While 49% had said they were satisfied with the Left government’s performance, only 34% had expressed satisfaction with Bhattacharjee’s work.
In fact, such is the popularity of Didi in West Bengal today that when voters were asked who they thought had been the best Chief Minister till date, it was she who emerged on top (37%). Jyoti Basu who was at the helm of affairs for 23 years finished a distant second at 25%, and only 10% favoured Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.
Women, not surprisingly, emerged as one of Mamata’s stronger supporters. More women (62%) saw her as having performed satisfactorily as CM than men (57%). While nearly half the men (48%) saw her as being arrogant and intolerant of criticism, among women, only one-third viewed her similarly; this is because nearly half the women simply refused to answer the question.
This relatively more favourable view of Banerjee among women also seems to be reflected in the way men and women voted in the election — with the TMC ending up securing a greater proportion of votes among women than among men, 48 to 42. Also, while among women, the TMC led the Left-Congress by 12 percentage points, among men its margin dropped to just 2 percentage points.
Banerjee’s resounding victory makes her not just stronger in West Bengal, but probably also at the all-India level. That is likely the main takeaway from this verdict.