Today’s column will briefly assess the reasons behind these results and their implications. Let’s begin with West Bengal. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has successfully secured a second term with a stupendous victory over her rivals.
The Mamata-led Trinamool Congress won 211 out of 294 constituencies, with a vote share of 45 percent. This is even better than the party’s performance in the last Assembly elections, where it won 184 seats. Experts contend that the 2016 results were never in doubt. Despite a concerted campaign by opposition parties and certain media houses to undermine the TMC government, the people seem to have reposed their faith in Mamata once again.
Contrary to the outside perception -- often ignorant and politically tilted -- West Bengal is doing better than most Indian states. During her first term, the Chief Minister worked towards fulfilling the basic needs of the common man. The changes brought about by the TMC government have been visible to the people, especially in the rural areas.
For example, on urban-rural connectivity, data from the Union Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MOSPI) states that there has been a significant surge in the construction of roads connecting rural areas. Even the Adivasi-dominated area of “Junglemahal” now has excellent metalled roads, according to varius ground reports.
Development is a word often abused by political parties. But the TMC government has made good on its promise, especially on the social justice front. On education, for example, the Sabuj Sathi, a government scheme to distribute cycles to students from classes 9-12 has been a roaring success in rural West Bengal. The scholarship scheme for economically disadvantaged girls, Kanyashree, has also worked well in preventing young girls from dropping out of school. Unlike various state governments, West Bengal has done exceptionally well to leverage the benefits of centrally-sponsored entitlement schemes.
In the past four years, for example, West Bengal has been one of the leading states in generating labour from the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. Another feather in the cap is the construction of toilets and the reduction in open defecation. As per recent data, from 2011 to 2015, the state built the second largest number of toilets for individual households in rural areas. It is also the state with the large st number of villages declared free of open defecation, after Himachal Pradesh.
For farmers, the TMC government introduced crucial land reforms, which included giving rights to sharecroppers for the land they tilled. In line with its pro-farmer stance, the TMC government also scrapped the state’s Special Economic Zone policy and resisted pressure from various quarters to repeal the land ceiling act. As this newspaper reported, the government’s decision on the land ceiling act had started an all-out feud between the TMC and the Anandabazar Patrika (ABP) Group.
In its bid to kowtow to the big boys of industry, the owner of the ABP Group wanted the TMC government to amend the law. But Mamata refused to play ball from day one, leading to a slew of vitriol from the ABP Group against her government. In the past five years, Mamata has consolidated her power and the TMC has become the undisputed political force in the state. The opposition, led by a desperate alliance of erstwhile enemies, the Left Front, and Congress, failed to make any inroads. In short, the people of West Bengal have rewarded the TMC with another term for the work it has done in the past five years.
Results in Tamil Nadu have definitely caught many political pundits off-guard. Going against the see-saw nature of the state’s electorate, Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) has secured a second consecutive term, winning 136 of the 232 seats. Most exit polls had predicted a victory for the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-Congress alliance, considering the state’s habit of swinging back and forth between DMK and AIADMK every five years.
The last time any Chief Minister secured consecutive terms in the state was MG Ramachandran in 1984. Besides the swing from AIADMK to DMK, many pollsters had predicted that a third front led by Captain Vijaykanth’s Desiya Morpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) would significantly alter the electoral dynamics. Alas, the DMDK-led alliance barely made a squeak, securing just 2.4 percent of the vote share. So what do these results indicate? Jayalalithaa has successfully overcome the negative publicity generated by corruption charges, rumors of her ill-health and accusations of not caring about citizens during the recent Chennai floods.
Although the AIADMK’s vote share fell from the highs of the last Assembly elections and the 2014 general elections, it is still approximately 10 percent more than the DMK. Similar to Mamata, the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister has fulfilled many of the welfare promises made to the people. Moreover, she has gained traction with the voters, especially women, on her promise for a phased implementation of prohibition. In the first of week of June, however, the Supreme Court will hear the disproportionate assets case Jayalalithaa. The AIADMK can celebrate now. But the uncertainty surrounding her fate remains.
In Assam, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led alliance achieved a significant victory over the Congress, winning 87 out of 126 seats. Unlike most states, Assam more or less saw a straight contest between the BJP and Congress. After 15 years in power, the Congress is out. On economic development, for example, the Tarun Gogoi government’s performance has been rather poor. “Between 2004-2005 and 2014-2015, the per capita income (at 2004-2005 prices) of Assam grew from Rs 16,782 to Rs 23,392, as compared to a jump from Rs 24,142 to Rs 39,904 nationally,” according to a study by the Centre for Policy Research (CPR).
Even on governance, the Gogoi government’s recent record has been rather shambolic. Its inability to contain the Kokrajhar riots in 2012 and gross mismanagement of the recent floods may have played their part in the Congress party’s decimation. The BJP emerged as a significant player in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, where it won 7 out of 14 parliamentary seats. The BJP had single-handedly raised its vote share from 12 percent in the 2011 Assembly elections to 37 percent in 2014 on the back of its promise for greater economic development.
But on the face of it, the BJP’s success in Assam is more down to electoral calculations than its promise for economic development. “The BJP was no doubt helped by the defection of (Himanta Biswas) Sarma, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi’s former right-hand man in Congress, to their camp,” according to the CPR study. “Sarma, who emerged as a star in the BJP during this election, brokered the seemingly incoherent yet effective coalition of parties and leaders under the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).” This fact is borne out by the split in vote share. The Congress did secure a higher vote share (31 percent) than the BJP (29.5 percent). However, the BJP won due to a timely alliance with the Asom Gana Parishad and the Bodoland People’s Front. If anything, credit should be given to the BJP’s electoral strategists.
In Kerala, the Congress-led United Democratic Front has paid dearly for a series of corruption scandals, as stated in these columns on May 17. The spoils have been picked up by a resurgent CPI (M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF), which secured 91 seats out 140. After all the hype, the BJP managed to secure just one seat. Moreover, it also witnessed a drop in its vote share from 17 percent in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections to 10 percent. After the recent series of Assembly elections, it is now certain that the Congress is now staring at electoral irrelevance on a national scale. The party is now left with only six states.