Elections in West Bengal are done and dusted: the Trinamool Congress, led by Mamata Banerjee, has scored a stunning victory, the BJP has been defeated, though compared to the three seats it had won the last time, it has done exceedingly well by winning 77 seats. But it has failed miserably when compared to its own target of winning over 200 seats and forming the government. The Left-Congress alliance has come a cropper, unable to win a single seat. Mamata Banerjee is going to be sworn in today as Chief Minister of West Bengal for a third time.
Periodic elections are a normal feature of any democracy. The West Bengal elections would also have been a normal event like the other state elections which were held at the same time, had it not been for the hype created by none other than the Prime Minister and Home Minister of India. “Do mai, didi gai” became their war cry, repeated in one public meeting after another. Despite the model code of conduct being in place, there is no restriction on boasting and making tall claims by political party leaders during elections. But when a claim is made by no less than the Prime Minister or Home Minister, one takes it more seriously. The reason is simple – they receive information not only through political sources but also through various governmental agencies at their disposal. So when the Prime Minister and Home Minister of the country say “Do mai, didi gai” or make any other such claim, one has to take it more seriously. In meeting after meeting, they kept repeating that ‘Didi’ had already lost the election and kept playing other mind-games. They set a new low in political discourse and used shameful language.
But that is not the only issue the elections have raised. Why was such hype created around the West Bengal elections alone? The answer to my mind is simple. I have to give credit to the Modi-Shah team for planning things much in advance. Modi would not have become Prime Minister after marginalising leaders like LK Advani, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh, Venkaiah Naidu and others but for such advance planning. They calculated that in none of the other states was the incumbent Chief Minister due for a third term. And in none of these states would a prospective Chief Minister have acquired an aura at the national level like Mamata Banerjee would if she won the election. Nobody would have been a threat to the Delhi establishment like her with a victor. So if they wanted to win the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, Mamata had to be stopped at all and any cost.
Hence the deployment of such massive resources by the BJP in West Bengal; hence the repeated trips to that state by the Prime Minister and Home Minister; hence the complete disregard by them of the raging covid crisis; hence the gloating by the Prime Minister at the huge (arranged) crowds at his rallies, specially at Asansol, in complete disregard of covid norms. But nothing worked for them, as the results showed, because their approach was fundamentally flawed. West Bengal is not like any other state in India. It has its own unique cultural traditions, its own rich language and its own pride. Its people would not be impressed by a couple of outsiders coming to Bengal at election time and imitating and irritating them. They were not impressed by a Prime Minister behaving like a goon when he thought he was regaling the crowds by chanting ‘Didi-o Didi’. It hurt their fine sensibilities when these outsiders showed complete ignorance of facts, like when the Home Minister of India claimed that Tagore was born in Shantiniketan. A Gurudev-like beard cultivated specially for the occasion impressed nobody. And finally, they disliked immensely the insult heaped upon the ‘daughter of Bengal’ by these outsiders day in and day out.
Separately, the Congress has been a major loser in these elections. The Left has at least won Kerala and created history by being the first government in 40 years to be re-elected. There was some hope for the Congress in Assam but it failed there also. The time for serious introspection for the Congress party is now. It cannot postpone it forever. If a non-Gandhi has to lead the Congress party, then so be it, otherwise we may soon see a ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’. That will be tragic indeed. The Congress party must live, if not for itself, then at least for the country.
In the meanwhile, the future beckons. Opposition parties must come together and start strategising for 2024. But the road to Delhi this time passes through Lucknow. The Yogi government there has been a dismal failure on multiple fronts. It is ripe fruit ready to be plucked. So the immediate target of the opposition should be Uttar Pradesh. A world-class six-lane highway, built by Akhilesh Yadav, connects Delhi and Lucknow, which reduces the travel time between the two cities and makes the journey pleasant. So, capture Lucknow in 2022. Delhi will then be only a few hours away.
Yashwant Sinha, former BJP leader, was Minister of Finance (1998-2002) and Minister of External Affairs (2002-2004). He is currently vice-president, Trinamool Congress.
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