“This is a war for Indian democracy,” Prashant Kishore, a political strategist, had informed me in March concerning the elections within the state of West Bengal.
We had been sitting in his workplace within the japanese metropolis of Kolkata whereas a loud nightclub subsequent door throbbed with revellers, fully oblivious to the looming second wave of Covid-19 infections.
Mr Kishore was serving to forge the marketing campaign of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her regional Trinamool Congress (TMC) get together within the battleground election towards the may of Narendra Modi’s BJP, which runs the federal authorities. A 45-day-long election staggered over eight phases and tightly secured by federal safety forces would start days later.
Rising above the din, Mr Kishore had defined why the Bengal election had been probably the most vital polls in India shortly. A defeat for Mr Modi’s BJP wouldn’t reduce its possibilities of profitable the 2024 basic elections, however defeat for the TMC would “almost eliminate” the possibility of the opposition profitable it, he stated.
If the BJP took Bengal, seen as one of many final bastions of the opposition, Hindu “majoritarian politics would grow in dominance”, and lots of different opposition-led governments would start to really feel shaky, he felt.
That’s why the stakes had been increased for Ms Banerjee, Mr Kishore defined. If she misplaced, the way forward for her get together can be in peril, and the opposition would lose hope, he stated.
As it occurred, Ms Banerjee, a feisty street-fighting politician, bucked anti-incumbency and gained a troublesome contest towards Mr Modi and his lieutenant, Home Minister Amit Shah, and swept to energy for a 3rd consecutive time period.
The odds towards Ms Banerjee had been huge. Even because the marketing campaign unfolded, federal investigative businesses raided and questioned her household and get together leaders over alleged monetary misdemeanours. The BJP whipped up an intensely polarising marketing campaign, efficiently making a media notion that it was going to win.
Mr Modi expended a lot political capital, addressing packed conferences whilst Covid instances had been displaying an uptick in Bengal. Ms Banerjee harm herself on the stump and ended up canvassing votes from a wheelchair. Federal election authorities had been additionally seen to be lower than honest.
Mr Kishore says the staggered rounds of voting had been meant to learn Mr Modi’s get together, and ended up with three phases happening whilst infections rose. They additionally did little to discourage the BJP’s “blatant use of religion to win votes”, Mr Kishore says.
Yet, Ms Banerjee, India’s solely feminine state chief minister, gained a sensational landslide, choosing up greater than 200 seats within the 294-seat meeting.
Ms Banerjee’s win offers a shot of hope to the bedraggled opposition, which has struggled to serve up a compelling narrative to tackle Mr Modi’s politics of majoritarianism and welfarism. As political scientist Neelanjan Sircar says, Ms Banerjee’s politics of “gender and welfare” had supplied a super counter-narrative to that of the BJP.
Ms Banerjee’s welfare schemes geared toward educating women and ensuring there was no under-age marriage have been successful with voters. Women have grow to be an vital vote financial institution in India – in 2019, 67% of eligible feminine voters turned out to forged their ballots. “The female voter is being wooed like never before,” says Pradeep Gupta, a number one pollster.
Ms Banerjee’s win additionally reveals the restrictions of the BJP’s reliance on Mr Modi’s charisma to win elections in states with out his get together throwing up standard native leaders. “Ms Banerjee’s personal popularity, much like Mr Modi’s, is greater than her party. And she excels in situations when pushed against the wall,” notes Rahul Verma, a fellow with the Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research assume tank.
Ms Banerjee’s resounding win is important as a result of a regional get together fought anti-incumbency and the appreciable may of Mr Modi’s get together and authorities.
But even the BJP’s shedding efficiency – profitable 77 seats and nearly 40% of the favored vote – factors to the get together lastly getting a agency foothold in Bengal. Given that Ms Banerjee’s get together is pushed by the cult of her persona, the victory might find yourself trying like a “pyrrhic respite from a complete takeover by the BJP”, warns political scientist Suhas Palshikar.
It is just too early to say how vital this election can be in the long term. Battling allegations that India’s catastrophic second Covid wave has been mishandled – to not point out looming financial meltdown, and farmer protests which have festered for months – Mr Modi, many consider, is quick shedding his grip on the narrative.
Whether Ms Banerjee’s gorgeous victory will propel her onto the nationwide stage as a pacesetter who can galvanise the opposition to tackle the ruling BJP stays to be seen. And earlier than that she and her colleagues have a frightening problem at hand: to sort out a lethal surge of Covid-19 infections and deaths in Bengal, a lot of which has been brought on by the careless campaigning of events which fought the election.