Confounding conventional wisdom has been a defining feature of Mamata Banerjee’s political career. Through dogged persistence, bravery and picking the right causes she brilliantly marshalled public protests to trounce the CPI(M)’s party-state apparatus in 2011. But heading for a second term, she did not seem like a runaway winner and noticeably did not exude the optimism we’ve come to expect from her. Trinamool Congress (TMC) cadres were clearly apprehensive, leading analysts to speculate about the possibilities of the Congress-Left alliance owing to the alienation caused by TMC cadres’ strong arm-tactics and intimidation. In the end, she has been able to withstand withering criticism from the liberal intelligentsia and corruption allegations against her party leaders to secure a resounding affirmation from the voters.
Ms Banerjee’s victory will have far-reaching implications. With this scale of victory she may have snuffed out whatever chances the CPI(M) had of forging a comeback in Bengal. That the Congress has done better than the CPI(M) is an astonishing tale of decline for the latter and portends a further churning of political loyalties in localities across the state — a process that can expected to be marked by violence while providing opportunities for the BJP to expand. How Ms Banerjee and the NDA navigate their relationship hereon will have a bearing on Bengal’s future and India’s.
The BJP’s historic victory in Assam is a significant boost for the party after last year’s setbacks in Delhi and Bihar and crucially signals that it is no longer a purely Hindi-heartland party, but is in fact ready to make a further push into the East. It also represents a strong comeback for party president Amit Shah, who deftly handled the dynamics within the BJP’s Assam unit and choreographed the alliance with the Asom Gana Parishad and the Bodoland People’s Front. Managing two regional heavyweights is no easy task, particularly if they are recent entrants from opposing parties, but the BJP managed to project Sarbananda Sonowal, formerly of the AGP, as the chief minister while drafting in a former Congressman, Himanta Biswa Sarma, as the election convener. The Congress, meanwhile, paid the price for poor performance on the economy and infrastructure development despite being in power for three terms. Its electoral handling was counterproductive; it failed to explore alliances while efforts to project Tarun Gogoi’s son, Gaurav, ended up alienating Sarma, who was a huge asset to the party. The ambitions of Badruddin Ajmal, the head of the All India United Democratic Front, also foundered at the hustings. He was hoping to be kingmaker in the event of a hung verdict. Mr Ajmal himself lost the poll, suggesting that the migrant and indigenous Muslim support base he was banking on voted with more discernment than he anticipated.