Changing political dynamics
Mamata Banerjee’s win sends a powerful message to Opposition parties to unite against the BJP ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls
Mamata Banerjee's win in the 2021 Bengal elections has silenced critics and naysayers, and most importantly, ruptured the invincibility shield of the BJP. Her emphatic victory, even at the cost of her own defeat in Nandigram, is also a beacon of hope for the Opposition parties. This hope is further strengthened by DMK and LDF's decisive wins in Tamil Nadu and Kerala respectively. While the southern parties' victory was on expected lines, Bengal's electoral choice was no less than a political thriller. Hardened political pundits gave conflicting opinions; 6 exit polls handed a victory to the TMC while 3 exit polls anointed the challenger, the BJP, as the vanquisher of two terms of Mamata's regime.
The last laugh though was had by the voters, and of course, the Mamata Banerjee-Prashant Kishor tag team. Contrary to popular opinion and the belligerent claims of the BJP, the TMC not only mopped up three-fourths of the state assembly, the party also increased its vote share to almost 48 per cent while BJP dropped 3 per cent than what it grossed in 2019. Going by the wide margin of wins in majority of seats, the fight wasn't even a close one.
This victory is an achievement for the TMC matriarch as she single-handedly faced and overcame a national party with deep pockets and a slew of star campaigners, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. The communal card was also well on display with Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath addressing rallies and BJP leaders such as TMC turncoat, Subhendu Adhikari throwing in despicable anti-Muslim rhetoric stating that if "begum" (Mamata Banerjee) returned to power, Bengal would become a "mini Pakistan".
But despite the tough challenge posed by the BJP, the people of the state firmly backed Mamata. Her pro-poor, pro-people policies over the two terms worked, as did the Bengali pride and good sense to remain a cosmopolitan, open-minded, and peaceful lot. But the biggest message of her victory goes to the Opposition — the BJP can be defeated, and if like-minded parties rally together, maybe, just maybe, they would be able to oust the saffron party in 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
Mamata's victory has reinvigorated the Opposition parties. The BJP can throw what they want but without a strong local face, the regional player would still be at an advantage. Also, to be taken into account is the waning sheen of the PM himself. Sure, he is still massively popular but successive social and economic disasters under this governance, or the lack of it, is being amplified with the Covid second wave.
Over the last seven years, a majority of Indians accepted demonetisation, overlooked censorship, and forgot about Godi media. They bought into the anti-national theories which preceded the arrests of activists and students and cowed down to threats of disenfranchising select Indians through draconian Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC). They beat thalis as migrant labour walked for days to reach home during a sudden lockdown, and hid when farmers protested at the Sighu border through a bitter winter. These policies after all affected only pockets of people and not them. Why would they care? They remained drunk on the charisma of the PM, refusing to accept the many miss-steps taken by the government. Then came the devastating second wave of the Covid-19 wave that's caused more destruction than ever witnessed before in post-Independence India. The people of India won't forget this — the gasping for oxygen, burning pyres, incessant news of death, and at the centre of the dark pandemonium, a fumbling, clueless government.
The Opposition parties now need to come together keeping their differences aside and unite towards a common cause. The BJP is on the backfoot and the Opposition rank and file must fortify itself. Mamata Banerjee's victory has once again catapulted her into national prominence. An alliance of Opposition parties would benefit from her experience. There are other big personalities within this proposed crew too — Uddhav Thackeray, Arvind Kejriwal, M K Stalin. But Mamata's 40+ years of political experience makes her the most seasoned among them. The Congress too has a role to play — the grand old party is a veteran at managing allies. It will be a colossal waste of opportunity if the current state of the nation and the successes of regional parties are still not enough for them to put forth a strong front to the BJP. With Mamata retaining Bengal, national politics has changed for ever. Now it's up to the Opposition parties to together make the most of it.
The writer is an author and media entrepreneur. Views expressed are personal