TMC domination continues
The Bharatiya Janata Party's bid to form the government in West Bengal in 2021 continues to suffer from one reversal after another, falling well short of the bar set by the ruling Trinamool Congress. On Wednesday, the results of elections in the seven municipalities of the State were published. The ruling TMC won four out of the seven municipalities and created history by securing the Mirik Notified Area in the Darjeeling hills. For the first time in decades, the TMC became the first mainstream political party from the plains to open its account in a municipality of the Darjeeling hills, a feat which eluded the Left Front during its 34-year rule. As Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee posted on social media, "The hills are smiling." Civic polls often do not hold the same media appeal as say Assembly or general elections, or even the odd bypoll. These elections are fought on local issues, and they reflect little but the strength of the ruling party. The recent spate of civic elections in West Bengal, however, indicates something deeper. At the state level, the win once again confirms the TMC's dominance in the state, while relegating the Congress and the Left to irrelevance. Senior leaders of the BJP, meanwhile, are left scratching their heads, desperately trying to gain a foothold in the state. At the national level, opposition parties under siege from central agencies have possibly found a platform on which to challenge the BJP's dominance.
Mamata has made no secret of her desire to "uproot BJP from Delhi" for laying siege on her party, government and finally the people of the Bengal through their inability to abide by fundamental principles of federalism. What the BJP may fear the most is the supreme confidence Mamata has shown in her ability to protect her turf from an aggressive BJP, which has used central agencies to target her party on allegations of corruption in the Saradha and Narada scam to little electoral effect. There are interesting parallels one can draw from the sheer scale of TMC's dominance in West Bengal and the BJP's successes at the national level. In the recent spate of municipal elections, the TMC not only secured the Mirik Notified Area winning six out of nine wards, but it also significantly increased its vote share in the other three hill civic bodies that expectedly went to the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha—an alliance partner of the BJP. In the plains, it was a clean sweep for the TMC in the civic bodies of Domkol, Raiganj and Pujali. The Congress and Left, which had entered into some unofficial alliance, secured a dismal four wards out of the 64 in the plains, while the BJP won just three.
BJP president Amit Shah's political stunt of having lunch with a Dalit family (à la Rahul Gandhi before the UP elections) was clearly not enough to bring serious political benefits for his party in the state. The BJP must surely have a rethink in its strategy, considering the popularity, agility and resilience of the TMC. With a 17 per cent vote share in Bengal after the 2014 general elections, many in the BJP thought that this would present the perfect launching pad for the party. Successive defeats in Assembly and Lok Sabha by-polls, a complete decimation in last year's Assembly elections and defeat in the recent civic polls since then have hurt the BJP. For those living under a rock, the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress had won 211 out of 294 seats, with a vote share of 45 per cent, in the last year's assembly elections. This was even better than the party's performance in the previous assembly elections, where it won 184 seats with a 39 per cent vote share. These results were never in doubt, despite a concerted campaign by opposition parties and individual media houses to undermine the TMC government. One can make the same assertion today too. In the past year, the BJP has tried to undermine the Chief Minister's non-communal credentials, and espouse the politics of extreme Hindutva. There are attempts at vitiating the climate of religious harmony, which the State government has taken very seriously.
Unfortunately for the BJP, it has little or no local and grassroots-level leader who could challenge Mamata's appeal with the masses. Leaning on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's image is clearly not enough for the BJP to make inroads, unlike in other states where it did work. These civic polls have once again confirmed that the people are continuing to repose their faith in Mamata. Despite all her alleged faults, the Mamata Banerjee administration has worked towards fulfilling the basic needs of the common man. Despite the real mess left behind by the erstwhile Left Front government, the TMC-led administration has taken the state's GDP growth rate to well above the national average. Contrary to the outside perception, which is often ignorant and politically biased, the state is performing better than most Indian states. Voters expect a return from their support. Voters punish parties unable to portray that role or who fail to deliver. The TMC government continues to deliver on its promises of greater social welfare and economic development. Unlike various state governments, West Bengal has also done exceptionally well to leverage the benefits of centrally-sponsored entitlement schemes. The BJP will need to do a lot more to upstage the TMC.