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Beyond Bengal: Mamata and 2024: Analysis by Mukund Padmanabhan

Updated by admin on Tuesday, May 04, 2021 07:23 PM IST

New Delhi: Beyond Bengal: Mamata and 2024

The stunning election results in West Bengal demand to the minutely parsed, which they will be over the next few days. But there is also a case for looking beyond such things as the reasons for the TMC’s extraordinary triumph, the failure of the BJP to win despite its frenzied rhetoric, and the humiliating collapse of the Left and the Congress, which have been pushed from the margins into the political wasteland, with not even one seat to show between themselves.

In other words, there is a case for looking beyond the immediate in Bengal. This is because the results here, unlike those in say Kerala or Assam, have a significance that go well beyond the borders of the State. They are going to have a bearing on next general election in 2024 – both in the making and the effectiveness of a wide-ranging front that is pitted against the NDA.

The BJP was well aware of this, which is why it ran such a highly charged and contentious campaign helmed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his lieutenant Amit Shah. So was the English-speaking commentariat, the attention of which was so focussed on Bengal, that it paid scarcely any attention to what was going on in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Assam.

A viable and effective front against the NDA needs winning faces and there is a dearth of them at the moment. The big players in the Hindi heartland such as Mayawati, Akilesh Yadav and Laloo Prasad have all suffered crushing defeats. The Congress has had little to show for itself electorally. While it is by no means certain that Mamata Bannerjee will lead the 2024 opposition crusade, as she would certainly want to, she has strengthened her case, at the very least, for being one of its main faces. The victory of the DMK in Tamil Nadu will add strength to such a front. While the Left will be unable to join any such formation in Kerala, the only State it has a real presence, it will open to Bengal-style seat sharing arrangements, though the electoral value of this is likely to be negligible.

The TMC’s triumph in Bengal could be just the catalyst that is needed to wake the opposition from its stupor and begin a process of political consolidation. After all, this was no ordinary victory. It has come after 10 years of ruling the State, negating anti-incumbency. It has bettered its performance in 2016 (when it won 211 seats), something that everyone from pollsters to fawning admirers failed to anticipate. It’s vote share over the BJP had widened to around 10 percentage points, well above the three per cent lead it had in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, which saw the BJP pick up 18 of the State’s 42 seats.

Such a massive lead cannot be explained away by excuses such as the impact of the Covid surge, the second wave of which impacted only the last three of eight phases. Overall, the results suggest that the TMC has made massive inroads into whatever remained of the support base of the Left and the Congress, mopping up minority votes and dominating areas such as Malda and Mushirabad. As for the BJP, it would have taken more comfort from the results had it not crowed as loudly about winning. Going up from a mere three seats in 2016 to as many as 77 is an exponential increase, and establishes the party as the only significant opposition in the State.

The only wrinkle in this smooth and smothering victory is the defeat of Mamata Bannerjee herself, who lost narrowly in Nandigram. She may rationalise this defeat as a sacrifice for a greater cause, but there is no doubt that she chose badly, in forsaking Bhabanipur (which the TMC retained) for Nandigram. Her loss here has a symbolic ring, because it was Nandigram, and her protests against land acquisition, that saw her emerge as a major political force and catapult her to power in 2011. But given the scale of victory, the defeat in Nandigram is unlikely to amount to more than a short-lived personal embarrassment. Indeed, it may well be forgotten after she wins a by-election from a safe seat to enter the Assembly and cement her place as chief minister.

Her ambitions, which have not exactly been concealed, go well beyond Bengal. And while she will have one eye on running the State over the next three years, she will another eye on the country.

By Mukund Padmanabhan

(Mukund Padmanabhan is a Professor of Practice at Krea University and former Editor of The Hindu)

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