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The Mamata Message

Mamata Banerjee has soundly defeated the BJP by winning a landslide majority. And in doing so, she may have shown to other opposition parties how the unthinkable can be accomplished. But it is too early to even think about the right-wing fall, writes Riyaz Wani

Mamata Banerjee

The poor showing of the BJP in three out of the four-state elections has come as an unexpected setback to the Hindutva juggernaut. More so, in West Bengal where the saffron party appeared set to dislodge the redoubtable Mamata Banerjee. But the two-time chief minister has soundly defeated the BJP by winning a landslide majority. And in doing so, Banerjee may have shown to other opposition parties how the unthinkable can be accomplished.

In today’s India, the BJP has everything it takes to win an election: money, muscle, a piece of vaunted electoral machinery, an ideology that has a deep resonance with a critical mass of people and more importantly an overarching politician in the form of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, enabling the party to win election after election. But in Bengal, all these shastras came to nought. That too despite the fact, that the top BJP leaders including the PM Modi and the Home Minister Amit Shah had campaigned vigorously in the state holding several public meetings and roadshows. The BJP had no answer to the fighting spirit of Banerjee and her commitment to secular values. In the words of her election strategist Prashant Kishor, she got into the pit and fought, unlike Congress, which displays a singular lack of the willingness to fight.

State Of Congress

Congress is now in dire straits. The party despite its claim to being India’s pre-eminent secular party has never posed an ideological challenge to Modi. Neither in Gujarat where the party has successively failed to wrest the state from the BJP nor in the rest of the country. The BJP has now acquired a truly national profile and Congress is shrinking by the day.

However, the significance of the Bengal election is beyond the BJP-TMC rivalry. Despite Bengal being one of the cradles of the hardline nationalist politics, the BJP and its earlier avatar Jan Sangh have struggled to find a foothold in the state. This is why the win for the TMC is a profoundly important development. The TMC win is likely to arrest the disarray among the secular forces and give them the confidence to stand up to PM Modi in the upcoming state elections. This has once again underlined that only a broad secular front could confront the BJP with a credible challenge. As things stand, there is no dislodging the PM Modi yet. That is, if no credible political rival emerges from the shadows in the near future, a prospect for which looks bleak.

The Other States

As for the outcomes in the other three states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Assam, the BJP didn’t stand much of a chance in the two Southern states. In Assam, the BJP was the ruling party but won despite the anti-incumbency factor. In any case, the results of the five elections will have a significant bearing on India’s politics. More importantly, the win in Bengal for Banerjee’s TMC would be expected to halt the BJP in its tracks, momentarily though.

Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.

True, the spectacular losses in Bengal, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala will go some way to hold back the rampaging march of the BJP across the country, but a victory in the UP, which is going to elections next year could change that.

The King State

In UP, the election will be a high-stakes contest between the BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Samajwadi, Congress and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party. At stake also will not only be the mundane question of who rules the UP over the next five years but where India is headed as a country. A win for a party other than the BJP will go some way to arrest the disarray among secular forces and give them the confidence to stand up to Modi. But a victory for the BJP will yet again reinforce the political invincibility of Modi and further power his political cult. A Modi victory will also be an emphatic endorsement of his seven years of rule. It will be an approval of the hardcore strain of Hindutva that currently reigns supreme.

The BJP is currently on the back foot. The catastrophic second Covid-19 wave, which has led to record infections and thousands of deaths has taken off much of the sheen from the party. But it will be premature to write its epitaph. The BJP has so far overridden many challenges to its dominance over the past seven years. It has lost elections in Bihar, Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, and Punjab but soon returned with a vengeance to re-establish its political writ. So, by the time elections in the UP draw around, the BJP might have even overcome the Covid-19 setback. It shouldn’t be surprising if it does.

The Media

The TMC win has got the most media attention among the four states that went to the election, and understandably so:

“Modi has kept an iron grip on Indian politics since sweeping to power in 2014 and winning a bigger victory in the 2019 national election on the back of a strong Hindu supremacist ideology. Until now, there have been no challengers and with the main opposition Congress party unable to mobilise, Modi has been expected to win the 2024 national poll,” wrote Al-Jazeera. “But West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who ran the campaign for her regional party from a wheelchair because of a fall at a rally, won a two-thirds victory, raising opposition hopes Modi could be challenged across the country”.

Telegraph India has written that the Mamata’s win was pregnant with possibilities at the national level: “The West Bengal chief minister has often asked the Opposition to unite, but the question remains whether she would be willing to step out of her turf and wage a national battle. The last chief minister to do so was Narendra Modi, who had also won three terms in Gujarat. The difference was that he had a national party as a vehicle for his ambitions”, an opinion piece in the newspaper wrote. “Mamata Banerjee does not and were this idea to ever have wings, she would have to work with both the Congress and the regional forces. The apparent reluctance of the Gandhis to hold office could be a factor that does not make this an impossible idea”.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulating Home Minister Amit Shah after the passage of Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Bill in Lok Sabha on August 6, 2019.

An opinion piece in The Asian Age said the “posture of the Congress Party” was crucial to the formation of any anti-BJP conglomerate. “Will it (Congress) cede its claim to be the leader of an Opposition bandwagon in favour of a regional leader with whom it has locked horns in the past?” the piece written by Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay asked. It added that the Opposition parties have to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each party and leader and allocate responsibility accordingly calling, at the same time, caution to be exercised “to prevent Trojan horses from crashing this effort”.

“Ms Banerjee, after this landslide victory, will expect the leadership as her rightful claim. But she, like many other Opposition leaders, have to stop being Chhota Modis and be more accommodative. There are no shortcuts to successfully upstaging the present ruling set up, and playing the game patiently shall be crucial”.

Writing in New York Times, the TMC leader Mohua Moitra urged the other opposition parties to emulate Banerjee’s fight against the BJP. In the article titled I Know What It Takes to Defeat Narendra Modi, Moitra wrote that triumphing against the BJP would need a will to fight and commitment to secular principles.

“The Bengal experience has demonstrated that the BJP is not invincible, that all Indians are not attracted to the idea of a majoritarian Hindu state and that Mr Modi and Mr Shah are not the master election strategists they are made out to be,” she wrote. “Despite their huge financial resources, their misuse of federal investigative agencies to target opponents and accusations that they have been buying off opposition politicians, the BJP can still be defeated by a focused regional party that stays true to its grassroots and a secular, inclusive ideology”.

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