So, it’s finally curtains on one of the perhaps most arduous, long and bitterly contested Assembly elections in the country’s recent memory.
Held amidst the raging second wave of COVID-19 pandemic in large parts of the country and spread across four key states of Assam and West Bengal in the east, and Kerala and Tamil Nadu in the south, besides the Union Territory of Puducherry, the stakes were quite high naturally, equally for the BJP as well as the opposition parties.
Sensing this, the BJP had pulled out all its aces and put everything at stake, with the electioneering being led by none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself from the very beginning. The party hoped to finally make a dent using the Modi magic down South and in West Bengal.
However, finally, barring Assam (which was expected), it failed to make the cut in Tamil Nadu (with its alliance partner AIDMK), Kerala and West Bengal, where Mamata Banerjee held her fort. This clearly will be regarded as a big setback for Modi Inc.
Actually, without doubt, this was perhaps the most astounding victory for Trinamool Congress (TMC) led by Ms Banerjee, who single-handedly staved off a belligerent BJP breathing down fire on her neck and with her old but key associates having deserted her. Her “outsider vs insider” narrative and her aggressive pitch for Bangaliana (Bengali spirit) seem to have helped her big and she went on to record her hat-trick win.
Of course, it’s for the experts to analyse the long-term effects the current upsurge of Bangaliana could have in a State that always prided itself in multi-culturalism. Because, unlike being confined to the cultural sphere in the past, this time, Bangaliana has metamorphosed politically.
And given TMC’s propensity to indulge in sectarian politics by driving a wedge between “outsiders” and “bhumi putra” (son of the soil), it won’t come as a surprise if tensions mount between “outsiders” and “bhumi putras” in West Bengal in the coming days, which could have long-term consequences for Bengalis outside the State, especially those residing in the Northeast.
It left virtually no stone unturned during the election too to brand itself as a party primarily for and of the Bengalis. This however is not to take away from its victory.
For the BJP, the Assembly elections were once again (like in 2019 general elections) the case of thus far and no further both in West Bengal and Kerala, the closest it could have perhaps ever hoped to reach despite having put so much at stake, while the win in Assam could at best be considered a consolation victory.
Of course, no one is discounting its win in Assam, especially in the backdrop of a new record having been set – the first non-Congress coalition winning two elections on the trot. The BJP-led NDA alliance comprising Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL) won altogether 75 out of the 126 seats, with the BJP winning 60, AGP nine and UPPL six.
Nevertheless, the outcome in Assam was along expected lines. However, this clearly cannot take away the tinge of disappointment the party could be harbouring at this moment for having been unable to break the jinx in Kerala and West Bengal despite having invested so much time and effort.
The entire top brass of the party was campaigning relentlessly since the beginning of this year in both the States, addressing meetings. But all these came to nought as this didn’t translate into votes.
Now, this could now perhaps force the party’s top brass to rethink on its strategy of relying on Modi magic alone to deliver the results. The days of using Modi as a trump card could well be over, at least in the Assembly elections where local issues and local leadership matter.
Meanwhile, the outcome of the Assembly elections also holds a lesson or two for parties relying too much on media publicity or public activism to win polls, especially in the context of Assam. A case in point is the performance of both the newly-formed Asom Jatiya Parishad (AJP) led by former student leader Lurinjyoti Gogoi and Akhil Gogoi-led Raijor Dal (RD).
Riding on the wave of the popular anti-CAA stir that gripped Assam in 2019, AJP tried to seize the latent anti-CAA sentiments within the Assamese society but still failed to open an account with Lurinjyoti himself losing both the seats he had contested. Similarly, while Akhil might have won his seat, all his party’s candidates however lost.
A public activist known for organising mass protests across Assam on various issues under the banner of Krishak Mukti Sangram Samity in the last few years, Akhil too couldn’t convert the dissenting public voices into votes.
The two fledgling Assam parties clearly couldn’t quite match up to the organisational strength of the BJP or its alliance partners, though it will be too early to write them off altogether.
Interestingly, the issue of CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act), in which many experts saw as having the potential to threaten the existing political equations in Assam and West Bengal, failed to make any impact in both the States and has been rendered quite redundant. While BJP relied heavily on it to deliver the results with disastrous consequences in West Bengal, parties like the Congress, AJP and RD that banked largely on anti-CAA sentiments in Assam too failed miserably.
On the other hand, the grand old party, which seems to only sink further into the abyss after each election, fared no better this time as well. The Congress has been trounced resoundingly once again in all the four States and the one Union Territory that it had contested along with its allies. Now, if this still doesn’t serve as a wake-up call for the party’s leadership, nothing will.
Elections after elections have proved that neither revelling on its past glory or that of the khandan, nor its somewhat obsessive anti-Modi stance will deliver the results. Reason why the party needs to go to the drawing boards urgently, while its leader Rahul Gandhi should stop being a part-time politician. Of course, only if the party still means business and wishes to stay relevant.
(The writer is an independent journalist based in Guwahati. He can be reached at [email protected])