A big loss in Bengal
The TLDR: The BJP scored two victories yesterday—in Assam and Puducherry—but they paled in comparison to the whipping in Bengal. That the party scored a big fat zero in Kerala didn’t help either. Its score in Tamil Nadu was a respectable four seats—given that it failed to get a single seat in the last Assembly elections.
First, the electoral tally
Here are the latest seat totals in each state:
Bengal: Majority mark is 146. TMC: 213, BJP: 77, RSMP: 1 (Point to note: The Congress and left parties got 0).
Tamil Nadu: Majority mark is 118. DMK+: 159, AIADMK+: 75.
Kerala: Majority mark is 70. LDF: 99, UDF: 41.
Assam: Majority mark is 63. BJP+: 75, Cong+: 50.
Puducherry: Majority mark is 15. NRC+BJP+ADMK: 16, Cong+: 9.
Mamata wins the great game
‘Khela hobe’ (Game on!)—the call that defined this nasty Bengal election—found first mention when a Trinamool leader declared, “Khela hobe. Bhoyonkor khela hobe. Ei mati te khela hobe” (The game is on. It will be a dangerous game. But the game is on and this will be the playground). Well, it’s now khela shesh, game over for the BJP which failed to:
- Cross the 100-seat mark—despite Amit Shah promising his party would score at least 200.
- Hold on to the 40% vote share won in the 2019 elections. Its vote share dropped to 38% compared to Trinamool’s staggering 48%.
- Win most of the 121 assembly districts it had captured in 2019 to score 18 Lok Sabha seats. That said, its tally has jumped from 3 seats in 2016 to 77 in 2021. Hence PM Modi’s spin on the defeat: “I would like to thank my sisters and brothers of West Bengal who have blessed our party. From a negligible presence earlier, BJP’s presence has significantly increased.”
A prettier version is this:
Or if you prefer the throwback variety, then this:
The fly in the ointment: Nandigram. Mamata Banerjee lost her personal constituency to BJP rival and former TMC loyalist Suvendu Adhikari by 1,956 votes—or just over 0.85% of the 2.28 lakh ballots cast. She asked for a recount from the Election Commission—and was denied. Now, the party plans to go to court to challenge voting “irregularities.” But mostly, Banerjee doesn’t seem to mind—since she can still be sworn in as CM and has six months to contest again and secure her election. Hence, she said: "Let the Nandigram people give whatever verdict they want, I accept that. Nandigram was a sacrifice that was needed in the larger victory." FYI, Adhikari vowed to quit politics if he didn't defeat Mamata by more than 50,000 votes. No word on whether he intends to deliver on that election pledge.
Point to note: What makes Trinamool’s victory impressive is the great odds it faced—including a hostile Election Commission which okayed a long and bruising election, refused to shut down the BJP’s often communal rhetoric, and was often openly at odds with Mamata. Watch Trinamool strategist Prashant Kishor bluntly make that point on NDTV.
Mamata’s recipe for success
There are reams and reams of analyses of Mamata’s victory. But here are the people who gave her the resounding victory:
Muslims: The BJP doubled down on its polarisation strategy—chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ at rallies, and painting Trinamool as an appeaser of minorities. But that meant it already ceded 30% of the electorate, i.e the Muslims—who rallied behind Mamata. Her party won previously unconquered Muslim-majority districts that traditionally voted Congress/Left.
Bengali Hindus: To win, the BJP then needed a similar consolidation among the Hindus—which never happened. Trinamool did very well in a number of Hindu-majority areas, primarily by successfully painting this as a battle between the “daughter of the soil” vs “outsiders.” That the BJP campaign gave the star treatment to outsiders—i.e. PM Modi, Amit Shah speaking in Hindi without translators—helped her cause.
Women: simply didn’t like the highly masculinised heckling of Didi. The party’s state president Dilip Ghosh suggested Mamata wear bermuda shorts to display her injured leg. And BJP’s biggest rockstar Modi scored a total self-goal by hissing like a roadside harasser at his rallies:
As one woman told The Telegraph: “If you are ridiculing a woman then we women have shown you the way and proved that you cannot suppress women’s voices.”
Not an asset: all those TMC turncoats. BJP lured entire swathes of the Trinamool leadership over to its side—hoping they will help the party shake off the ‘outsider’ label. Instead, a majority of the 46 candidates who defected from other parties—including 36 from the Trinamool—lost their seats.
Big point to remember: The BJP really needed this win in the midst of the second wave. It was to work the same magic as that UP election victory in 2019 which burnished the party’s reputation as undefeatable—unmarked even by the firestorm of demonetisation.
Looking to the South…
The NDA lost out on two of the three elections here. And the only party it managed to defeat is this election’s biggest loser: the Congress party.
Stalin’s modest comeback: All exit polls predicted a DMK return to power, and its leader MK Stalin managed to fulfill predictions—but without any major fireworks. The party’s final solo tally (133) wasn’t a spectacular landslide, but it managed a simple majority on its own. And it indicated that at the very least AIADMK’s two Ps—Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) and Ottakarathevar Panneerselvam (OPS)—had managed to make a decent case for their record. The biggest loser: Kamal Haasan who narrowly lost to BJP’s Vanathi Srinivasan in South Coimbatore. That’s quite a feat in a state that adores its movie stars. The BJP is ahead in four seats—which will equal its best previous performance in the state. But despite its personal showing, the party proved to be an albatross around its ally AIADMK’s neck.
- For one, AIADMK lost most of its Muslim supporters—who had been carefully cultivated by Jayalalithaa.
- Two, the BJP-driven decision to create a special quota for the Vanniyar community triggered a backlash among other backward castes.
- And the BJP’s campaign to craft and boost a ‘Hindu Tamil’ identity failed in the face of the state’s commitment to traditional Dravidian politics.
- The DMK seized on the above to cast the BJP as outsiders hostile to Tamil Nadu’s unique identity, and AIADMK as a party controlled by outsiders—and make the election at least partly a referendum on the BJP.
- After the victory, one DMK leader made it plain: "The people saw this election as a choice between the BJP and BJP-controlled alliances and that of the DMK, which stands to oppose the BJP and its ideology."
Point to note: This is one state where the Congress actually put on a respectable showing—increasing its seat tally from 8 to 17—and that will restore some of its lost status in the eyes of its ally DMK.
A sweep for Pinarayi Vijayan: The Left Democratic Front not only made history by winning back-to-back elections, it also improved on its record—picking up an additional eight seats. Its main opposition—the Congress-led United Democratic Left—only managed 41 compared to its 2016 record of 47. The BJP scored a big fat zero—losing even the one lone seat it held. A notable loss: 'Metroman' Elattuvalapil Sreedharan who lost on a BJP ticket. A notable win: The widely popular health minister KK Shailaja who won by a record 60,000 votes.
Main reasons for Vijayan’s victory: Congress’ extremely weak showing plus his own strong record of managing the floods, the pandemic and the migrant worker crisis. The Hindu has more on Vijayan’s record of “compassionate governance.” Also: Indian Express flags why post-election divisions within Congress may offer an opportunity for the BJP.
An expected win in Puducherry: There isn’t much to explain here. The ruling Congress government—which was recently replaced by President's rule—was in such shambles that it won only two of the 15 seats it contested. This was basically a walkover for the BJP. The Hindu has more details if you need it.