DC Edit | Despite poll violence, Didi reigns supreme in Bengal
The last vote cast in the elections to local self-government bodies in West Bengal held last week has not been counted yet. Nonetheless, the Trinamul Congress has demonstrated an unassailable support base among Bengal’s voters.
The many-headed Opposition has actually been relegated by the party ruling West Bengal for 12 years now to distant second, third and fourth places. The TMC won almost two-thirds of the seats in all three levels — zilla parishads, panchayat samitis and gram panchayats. The BJP has about 10 per cent seats, with the CPI(M)-Congress combine scoring even less.
It is true that the Trinamul Congress was unable to repeat the stupendous feat of virtually sweeping the polls at all the three levels in 2018 this time, but it remains comfortably ahead of its rivals with respect to votes and seats which matters in a first-past-the-post electoral system. The success of the party points to the undiminished popularity of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and the welfare schemes her government has implemented. This is despite the series of corruption cases and scandals that have come up against the leaders of her party. Ms Banerjee with her spartan manner and squeaky clean record has successfully resisted the attempts of the BJP to crack her support base by unleashing the Central agencies on her party leaders.
The BJP, which was nowhere on the scene in the 2013 panchayat elections, earned a significant share of votes in the 2018 elections. It emerged as the second largest political party and has now further expanded its ground. The party has thus made itself a strong contender for the second spot in the race to the Lok Sabha from the state, its setback in the 2021 Assembly elections notwithstanding. The BJP in West Bengal is a long-term player, never willing to give up in the face of electoral reverses. The party which has benefited from communal polarisation wherever it takes place will be at it in West Bengal, too. The unprecedented incidents of violence during Ram Navami celebrations this year and in the recent past are a pointer to the powder keg the state is sitting on. It is for the people of West Bengal to see that politicians are disallowed from profiting in such an unscrupulous way.
While the CPI(M)-led Left Front, which is used to setbacks since the 2011 Assembly elections, has recovered some lost ground, its ally, the Congress, is yet to capitalise on the expanding opposition space. The alliance of secular forces does not have a sprinter’s energy to defeat the Trinamul nor has it the stamina of a BJP to stay in contention in case of a marathon. Its alliance with the Muslim cleric Abbas Siddiqui-run Indian Secular Front is highly unlikely to add to its credentials in the fight against the BJP either. It will have to recalibrate.
The good news for the Opposition at the national level is that Ms Banerjee has just got reassured of her pole position in the state. She is under no threat from the Left and the Congress with whom she will cooperate nationally on a common platform. A stronger Ms Banerjee may make up for an emaciated Sharad Pawar who lost a major chunk of his party to the BJP while leading Opposition unity efforts.