Kolkata: One of BJP’s campaign slogans before and during the West Bengal assembly elections was ‘Ab ki bar 200 par’ (this time we will cross 200 seats).
In reality, it’s their rivals and the ruling party Trinamool Congress (TMC) which has smashed a ‘double century’.
The Election Commission (EC) is yet to formally announce final results for all 294 seats, but as per ‘leading’ trends after most rounds of counting at 7.30 pm on Sunday, TMC look to be on way to forming the government for the third straight time with more than two-thirds majority – around 210-220 seats.
The BJP, which put its heart and soul into the West Bengal polls with all its might, has been left with egg on the face.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah and a battery of other Union ministers as well as chief ministers from BJP-ruled states visited the state day in and day out to conduct hundreds of rallies in all districts. And not just after elections dates were announced in February – Modi and Shah started campaigning from December itself.
So what actually led to TMC’s stupendous success? Especially when it had already ruled the state for 10 years and was fighting anti-incumbency. Also, BJP launched a scathing attack on corruption against Mamata’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee and his wife’s family, as well as party workers for siphoning off Amphan funds.
To counter all these, Mamata’s trump card seems to have been the launch of Swasthya Sathi health card for all families of the state. Like her stated policy, she again placed the emphasis on women.
The government issued the Swasthya Sathi card in the name of the eldest female member of every family. And all members of the families which had the Card were promised health insurance coverage of up to Rs 5 lakh, including treatment at government and private hospitals.
There were serpentine queues in front of the centres from where the Cards were being issued. Some doubted whether the state would actually be able to provide benefits to everyone, but a large number of people availed of the Card.
The chief minister also promised ‘Duare Sarkar’ (government at doorsteps), under which Swasthya Sathi cards were distributed. She also assured ‘duare ration’, which meant free ration at people’s doorstep.
If Duare Sarkar was a planned move, another external factor which went in favour of TMC was the steep rise in COVID-19 cases in the state from early April. The TMC chief, while campaigning, repeatedly pointed out – especially post the third and fourth phases of polling — that the EC should club the final three or four phases together to curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
In the last 10-12 days, Mamata criticised the Centre for mismanagement of COVID situation nationally, including the shortage of oxygen and critical medicines.
Almost certainly, this influenced voters in the sixth, seventh and eighth phase (April 22 onwards) of Bengal elections.
The ruling party’s ‘bohiragoto’ (outsiders) barb against the likes of Modi, Shah and others coming from all over the country to campaign here may also have hurt the BJP. The TMC claimed time and again that the ‘outsiders’ not only have no idea of the culture of Bengal, they have helped spread the virus in this state.
Women voters turned up at Mamata’s rallies in huge numbers and didn’t let their leader – who delivered her speeches sitting on a wheelchair — down on polling day. At every meeting, Mamata said that she will fight the election on the strength of two legs of her mothers and sisters.
Mamata’s call to Muslims in the state to be united and vote for TMC to consolidate her position may also have clicked. Malda and Murshidabad, traditional Congress bastions with a considerable minority population, voted en masse for TMC.
BJP, which had been banking on its support bases in Jangalmahal area (Bankura, Birbhum and Midnapore districts), failed to consolidate.
Political experts feel that Jangalmahal area, bordering Jharkhand, has a substantial influence of what happens in Jharkhand. “In 2019, when the BJP made major inroads in the area during Lok Sabha polls, the BJP was in power in the bordering state. This time, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) is in power in Jharkhand, which is a rival of the BJP. BJP minister in the Centre, Arjun Munda had been camping in the area during the elections to sway votes. But it didn’t work,” said a poll analyst.
Last but not the least, firing by central forces in Cooch Behar’s Shitalkuchi, killing four persons during phase 4 of polling, could have swayed a number of voters who were undecided.