“The more it changes, the more it remains the same” — this often repeated phrase probably sums up the dominant political trend of West Bengal. The Left, after ruling the roost in the state for over three decades, has given way to the TMC, who has bagged the majority of seats in this general election thanks to sound organisation and fragmented opposition. For many, though, the real story has been the emergence of the BJP as a significant political force in the state, with potential to challenge Mamata Banerjee’s juggernaut.
Didi stuns critics
The TMC proved most experts wrong by winning 34 seats out of 42, up 19 seats from last time when it was in alliance with the Congress. After getting a record mandate in the Assembly election, the TMC government has been swamped with charges of nepotism, corruption, minority appeasement, inefficiency and for taking voters for granted. Despite the bad press the TMC received, it has managed to hold onto its core base, with around 39% vote share. The minorities and the underprivileged have voted largely for Didi. The TMC, as of now, has even survived the outpouring of grief and outrage regarding the Sharada scam. Mamata can rightfully feel vindicated.
Left losing relevance
The Left, on the other hand, has been virtually decimated. From the high of 34 seats in Bengal just a decade back, it has ended up with a paltry tally of two. The party is yet to come out of the shock of its defeat in the assembly election three years back. The much-hallowed cadre base of the Left has taken a beating. But more importantly, the Left in India today is probably suffering from an existential crisis. It is more comfortable in TV studios and seminars, admonishing “ignorant Indians” for electing a communal government to power. But the Left leaders draw a blank when it comes to raising people’s issues.
They probably also need to realise that the jaded message of the threat of imperialism and communalism, hailing socialism as a panacea for all ills, is unlikely to go well with the new-age India. A change in leadership and a repackaged message are the urgent need of the hour.
Stunning rise of BJP
A large chunk of disgruntled Left voters in Bengal has shifted loyalties to the BJP in this election. The way BJP has seen a sharp increase in vote share has stunned everybody. Finally, the land of Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, the founder of the Jan Sangh, has warmed up to the ideas of the saffron unit. The long-standing myth that “secular” Bengalis will never “endorse” a “communal” party has been also junked by the electorate. The BJP may have got two seats but it has eclipsed the Congress to become the third largest force in Bengal in terms of vote share. It has finished second in both the constituencies of Kolkata, doing extremely well in all other urban pockets too. From no seat in the last assembly elections, it surged ahead in 18 Assembly segments in this election.
Bengal has a string of elections in the next couple of years. In 2015, there are polls in 82 municipalities, including Kolkata, followed by assembly election in 2016. It will be interesting to see if the BJP can hold on to this 17% vote base and further build on it. Some, though, believe that it was the collective urge to see the “Modi sarkaar” in power which compelled people to vote for the lotus. In the absence of any able state leader, the BJP may again sink to its days of oblivion. State leaders, however, are optimistic and many repose faith in Babul Supriyo to bloom the lotus in Bengal.
As for Congress, it didn’t do as badly as in some other states. Four out of its 44 seats came from Bengal. The Congress leaders, with a strong base and close connect with the electorate, finally passed the people’s test. Those who tried to piggyback on the glory of the Gandhi family had their deposit forfeited. The party’s vote percentage has slumped to 10% and it got almost wiped out in South Bengal.
Can Mamata-Modi work together?
The TMC hoped to become the third-largest party in the Lok Sabha and play a decisive role in government formation. However, the BJP is enjoyed its best-ever poll results, and the TMC will have no say in functioning of the central government. The people of Bengal have given Didi a decisive mandate, whereas India has given a clean majority to Narendra Modi. Both need to respect people’s wishes and work seamlessly.
Modi has promised that he will give special attention to the Eastern part of the country, which is lagging behind. The PM elect has also assured that he will look beyond all the bitterness of the campaign to work closely with the Chief Ministers. Whether he can truly be bipartisan and extend help to all states can only be known in future.
Didi and her aides like Derek also need to tone down their rhetoric and start on a fresh note. Merely blindly objecting to every decision and raising the bogey of Bango banchana (Bengal being neglected) will not impress the new aspirational class. The impatient electorate of 2014 may not give the TMC the long rope it provided the Left. India has woken up to a new mantra of development; the onus is on Bengal to embrace it.