Mamata Banerjee made history in 2011, ending the 34-year rule of the Left Front. A decade later, she made history again, roaring to a third term in spectacular fashion, fighting back anti-incumbency, a wave of desertions from her party, and a giant BJP election machinery led personally by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah.
In an ironic twist to the Trinamool Congress’s triumph, however, Banerjee herself lost — she was edged out narrowly by her lieutenant-turned-BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari, whom she had chosen to confront in his stronghold of Nandigram.
Adhikari defeated Banerjee by 1,956 votes, as per data on the Election Commission website at midnight.
At press time, the Trinamool Congress had either won or was leading in 214 of the 292 seats that went to polls in West Bengal’s extraordinary eight-phase election.
The BJP, which had repeatedly boasted about winning more than 200 seats, had won or was leading in 76.
For the first time in West Bengal’s history, the Left and Congress will have no representation in the Assembly. Both parties, which fought the election in alliance, drew blanks. The third partner in their alliance, the ISF, has managed to win a seat.
The TMC has got 48 per cent of the vote, an improvement over its performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. The BJP has got 38.1 per cent, according to Election Commission data.
“Banglar joy. Bangla-i pare (This is the victory of Bengal. Only Bengal could have done this),” Banerjee declared as she emerged from her home in Kalighat for the first time at 5.10 pm.
She greeted a crowd of party workers and supporters, but asked them to return to their homes since the grave Covid-19 situation, and the restrictions on large victory celebrations and rallies.
“Go home. Take a bath in warm water. Wear masks and use sanitisers. Please do not go for victory rallies. We will announce dates (for celebrations) after Covid-19 is controlled. Many are infected with Covid19,” Banerjee said.
From noon onwards, as it became clear that the TMC would once again form the government, workers started to reach Kalighat for a glimpse of the Chief Minister.
She addressed the media after 6 pm and congratulated the people “for this landslide victory despite all odds”.
Prime Minister Modi congratulated Banerjee on the victory. “Congratulations to Mamata Didi for @AITCofficial’s win in West Bengal. The Centre will continue to extend all possible support to the West Bengal Government to fulfil people’s aspirations and also to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic,” he posted on Twitter.
Modi also thanked “my sisters and brothers of West Bengal who have blessed our party”. He said: “From a negligible presence earlier, BJP’s presence has significantly increased. BJP will keep serving the people. I applaud each and every Karyakarta for their spirited effort in the polls.”
Through the day, there was drama as the contest in Nandigram, the most high-profile of the election, appeared to swing back and forth between Banerjee and Adhikari.
It was initially reported that Banerjee had won by a margin of 1,200 votes, but the returning officer subsequently announced Adhikari’s victory by 1,956 votes.
The TMC wrote to the West Bengal Chief Electoral Officer, asking for a recount. The EC had not responded until late night on Sunday.
“Bengal has saved the country. Bengal has saved democracy and humanity. Our ‘Khela Hobe’ (Game On!) and ‘Joy Bangla’ slogans have borne fruit. Due to the Covid situation, there will be no big oath-taking ceremony. We will hold a small ceremony and the date will be announced later. Right now my priority is Covid. I will start working immediately and we will also tide over this crisis,” Banerjee said.
“We will provide free vaccines to the people of Bengal. We will appeal to the Centre to provide free vaccines to all 140 crore people (of the country). I will sit on a satyagraha in front of Gandhi statue if this is not done,” she said.
The Chief Minister said she had fought against “money power, muscle power, and the partisan attitude of the Election Commission.”
“Our target was 221 seats. We will get there, as elections were not held at two seats. We will also file cases against the Election Commission for their partisan attitude. I will move the Supreme Court. We will go jointly with other political parties. There should be a lakshman rekha for the EC. The BJP said ‘double engine sarkar’, but we said we will score a double century. This is the victory of the people of Bengal,” Banerjee said.
The TMC has won not only in its strongholds, but also in areas where the BJP did well in 2019, including the former Maoist belt of Jangalmahal, and North Bengal. It has also done well at seats where deserters who joined the BJP contested.
Apart from Mukul Roy, Suvendu Adhikari, and actor-turned-BJP leader Hiran Chatterjee, all BJP heavyweights, including Union Minister Babul Supriyo, MP Locket Chatterjee, former Rajya Sabha MP Swapan Dasgupta, and senior party leaders Rahul Sinha and Samik Bhattacharya, have lost.
On the other hand, all TMC heavyweights, including Subrata Mukherjee, Aroop Biswas, Firhad Hakim, Partha Chatterjee, Chandrima Bhattacharya, Shashi Panja, Sadhan Pande, Javed Khan, and others have won.
The TMC’s star candidates June Maliah, Kanchan Mullick, Raj Chakraborty, Lovely Moitra, and Soham Chakraborty too, have won.
The party has won a number of seats from Malda and Murshidabad, considered to be Congress bastions. The election results in this belt signal a consolidation of Muslim votes in favour of the TMC, which have traditionally gone to the Congress.
The Trinamool Congress also appears to have got a large chunk of women’s votes, thanks to its election slogan ‘Bangla Nijer Meyekei Chaaye’ (Bengal wants its own daughter).
The Chief Minister held 137 rallies across the state during the campaign period; she was on a wheelchair for many of those after sustaining a leg injury during campaigning in Nandigram. This image of Banerjee appears to have struck a chord with voters while boosting the morale of party workers.
Not only the relentless campaign by the Chief Minister, but initiatives by her government just before the polls appear to have had a silent impact on voters, especially women.
In December, the state government launched ‘Duare Sarkar’, an outreach programme bringing welfare schemes to people’s doorsteps. ‘Swasthya Sathi’ (universal health insurance cards) also appears to have had a major impact.
The TMC’s narrative of labelling the BJP as ‘Bohiragata’ (outsider) too seems to have found acceptance among voters. The BJP, without a chief ministerial face, and rallying leaders from the Centre and from other parts of the country, failed to counter this.
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