In West Bengal, the emphatic manner of the Trinamool Congress’ victory and its near- 47% vote share, left its opponents shell-shocked. With the election commission calling all the shots during the six-phase polling, no one can accuse the ruling party of any vote manipulation.
Observers predicted a hard fought election with the Trinamool expected to win on the basis of its known strength in rural Bengal. These number around 210. In 2016, the Trinamool has won 167 of these, earning it a majority. The additions from north Bengal districts and elsewhere are an unexpected bonus.
The Congress- Left Front seat adjustment did not work. The Congress held its own winning 44 seats, up from 42 seats five years ago.
But the Left’s vote share this time dropped to around 27% from a significant 41% in 2011. CPI(M) leaders admitted that while their organised cadres and supporters had voted for the Congress, the reverse process hadn’t happened. ‘The traditional bitter memories of nearly 40 years of Congress -CPI(M) struggles could have cost us some votes,’ said a CPI(M) state committee member.
The BJP sprang a major surprise , winning three seats for the first time and claiming a 10% vote share. It went into hibernation after the 2014 Lok sabha polls, but the party made a good recovery.Coming on the heels of the BJP’s success in Assam, an upbeat Mr, Sidharth Nath Singh said the new members would work as a strong opposition in Bengal.
All parties suffered unexpected losses. The Trinamool lost three ministers, as Chandrima Bhattacharya,Madan Mitra and Manish Gupta were defeated. The leader of the Congress-Left combine Suryakanta Mishra did not make it either. The defeat of Shamik Bhattacharya , BJP’s ex MLA and its leader Rahul Sinha even from Jorasanko, where a flyover had crashed killing at least 30 people, were major setbacks .
Mishra duly appealed to people to observe restraint expressing some disappointment over the outcome. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee also appealed for restraint adding that a section of the media had acted against the Trinamool. However, she hinted that there might be new developments after these elections without being specific. Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated her over the phone.
Clearly, official freebies in rural Bengal such cycles, books, rice at Rs 2 a kilo and wheat at Rs 3.5, not to mention better roads, water supply and lighting, had helped the Trinamool achieve its victory. For people living in underdeveloped interior, these were major changes, never mind the Saradha chit fund scam or the Narada sting operations. For them development mattered more than corruption. The minorities voted for the Trinamool as expected. Conversely, this partially explained the rise of the BJP too,
The effective containment of the Maoist insurgency and the separatist Gorkha agitation also helped the Trinamool. However, with the continuing lack of industrial investments and generation or jobs, going forward from here will not be easy for the new government. It would also remain dependent on the BJP-ruled Centre, with official probes continuing into the Saradha scam and the Narada sting revelations.
Ashis Biswas is a senior jounalist