The results of the Assembly elections in Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala have a few important messages:
One: The BJP, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, is not an unstoppable force. Modi and his party can be defeated by strong-rooted regional leaders – Mamata Banerjee in Bengal, Pinarayi Vijayan in Kerala and MK Stalin in Tamil Nadu. There are other examples of local chieftains challenging the combined might of Modi-Shah – Capt Amrinder Singh in Punjab, Uddhav Thackeray, Sharad Pawar in Maharashtra and Naveen Patnaik to name a few.
Two: When people vote in an Assembly election, they need to see a strong chief ministerial face. The BJP had no such face to project in Bengal against the tough Didi; the Congress in Kerala did not have a CM face to counter the tough Pinarayi Vijayan; in TN, there was no strong opponent for MK Stalin.
Three: Modi and Shah are facing the threat of becoming demonetised political currency in various states. The gritty Mamata Banerjee has proved that Modi and Shah can be defeated even with the centre’s full might unleashed upon political opponents.
Four: The political pendulum now seems to be swinging away from the BJP. And there are reasons – the Covid lockdown, the terrible central handling of the deadly second wave of Covid and how people died gasping for breath. Modi’s Atmanirbhar is in tatters and his skill in predicting events well in advance now seems to be sheer fluke. The second wave of Covid has triggered anger which is sweeping across even BJP-ruled states like Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
Five: Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu have shown that the opposition to the BJP is regional as established by the results. The return of Pinarayi Vijayan as Chief Minister of Kerala, a state that has never re-elected an incumbent, and the win of M K Stalin prove that.
Six: The Congress is now facing a political oxygen crisis and gasping for survival. This will work in favour of Modi-Shah when it comes to national elections.
Seven: The results have given Modi and Shah a hard reality knock. Prashant Kishor does not have to give up his job (he had promised he would if Trinamool lost).
Eight: The high-voltage political drama is far from over with this election. The political juggernaut would soon move to Punjab and Uttar Pradesh for the next big fight.
Nine: Wherever Modi and Shah campaigned aggressively, the BJP lost. They now keep company with Rahul Gandhi of the Congress.
Actually, in Bengal it is the BJP that made Mamata vs Modi fight; not only has she trumped the Prime Minister but she is now the only woman Chief Minister in the country and very much in a league of her own.
Taking on Mamata, Modi held a record number of public meetings (20) and so did Shah (50 ); BJP chief J P Nadda held 40. Every top BJP leader including Smriti Irani, Piyush Goyal and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath campaigned in West Bengal. Modi issued a toxic cat-call against Banerjee proclaiming “Didi-o-Didi” at every meeting. The BJP leaders also tried to polarise the elections by asking why “Banerjee was allergic to Jai Shri Ram”.
Against the cry of Didi-o-Didi, Banerjee was positioned by her election advisor Prashant Kishor as the little didi or “Bengal ki Beti” against mighty political ‘invaders.’ That worked well.
Didi’s fractured foot helped her run to victory. In what became an indelible image from the campaign she addressed public meetings across Bengal in a wheelchair. The visual impact was something that stuck in the hearts of people, not the Tagore-like image of Modi.
The TMC is comfortably placed winning 215 of the 294 seats (including leads) and the BJP far behind with 76. The CPM, which once ruled Bengal for over two decades, ended with a duck. The victory will surely make Mamata stronger and may also be a force to collect other political parties on a common platform against the BJP in the next general elections. Modi and Shah should look out for the political tsunami from Bengal.
In Mamata, Modi seems to have met his match, finally.
In Tamil Nadu too, it is the BJP that pulled down the AIADMK. The Dravidian party unfortunately entered into an alliance with the BJP. The electorate in Tamil Nadu are shrewd; they know that if the state gives BJP a space, the party will run over the state.
Moreover, the voters were fed up with the feud between Chief Minister K Palaniswami and his deputy O Panneerselvam. But on the other side, the DMK projected one face – MK Stalin. That worked.
At the time of writing, the DMK-led alliance is ahead in 136 seats, followed by AIADMK in 93 assembly constituencies in the 234 seats at stake. For the first time, both Dravidian parties — AIADMK and DMK — went into the election without their stalwarts, J Jayalalithaa and M Karunanidhi.
The AIADMK had scored successive wins in 2011 and in 2016, when Jayalalithaa bucked the anti-incumbency trend — the first by anyone in nearly three decades in the state.
In Kerala, Left strongman Pinarayi Vijayan scripted a record by rewriting history. With the LDF bagging 99 of the 140 seats, the 76-year-old CPM leader has become only the third Chief Minister in Kerala history to be re-elected and the first to continue in office after completing a full term. An LDF win is just the second instance of a ruling front receiving consecutive terms. Political observers feel such a development could lead to major political realignments in the state.
The Congress ended up with a poor 41 seats, throwing another question mark on Rahul Gandhi’s leadership. Rahul and his sister Priyanka had extensively campaigned in Kerala.
Pinarayi would become the third CM to retain power. But he will be the first to do so after helming a government for five years.
In Kerala too, the voters were impressed by the CPM projecting a CM face. The Congress-led UDF did not have a CM face and various groups within the Congress led to its downfall. The BJP, which had one seat in the previous Assembly, got wiped out. Even Metroman E Sreedharan of the BJP, who was leading initially, faced defeat in Palakkad.
But with Pinarayi’s outstanding win, the CPM will have to grapple with a big issue. As the party kicks off its organizational meets within a couple of months, one key question that will arise is, how strongly can questions be raised against the party? It will be the death of dissent in the CPM.
Divergence of opinions and opposing schools of thought have always vied for dominance in communist parties in the country. Over the past decades, in Kerala, the party has faced strong rebellions time and again and at times, it has been beset by factionalism too. But all that is history. When the party is set to conduct its organizational meets once again, one thing will clearly standout. There has been no factionalism in the party for the past several years.
According to ToI, it is the unquestionable leadership of Pinarayi Vijayan who led the party as its state secretary for three consecutive times that has helped the party to stand united and stamp out factionalism in the ranks. But the key question is whether the “unquestionable leadership” has turned authoritarian. It is a question that the party’s organizational meets will have to confront. Is the party under an autocratic leadership and if so, how will it come out of it?
In Assam, the BJP could get some solace, winning 77 of the 126 seats, leaving the Congress at 47.
In Puducherry, it is the NRC alliance, of which the BJP is a partner, is set to form a government bagging 14 seats in the 30 member Assembly.
Acknowledgement: Media inputs.