KOLKATA: The year 2011 was a watershed moment in the history of West Bengal. It’s the year mercurial leader Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool decimated the three-decade Left rule to wrest power. Now, 2019 marks another such defining moment in Bengal’s political history.
This Lok Sabha election, the BJP has made deep inroads in the state by clinching 18 seats.
Even though the TMC got 22 seats, the biggest winner of the day was undoubtedly the saffron party. As trends showed a saffron surge in Bengal, the residence of Mamata in south Kolkata’s Kalighat wore a deserted look.
The routing was such that TMC heavyweights like panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee and Manas Bhuniya failed to win against the saffron wave.
As the Trinamool’s disastrous performance restricted it to just 22 seats from 34 in 2014, Mamata tweeted:
“Congratulations to the winners. But all losers are not losers. We have to do a complete review and then we will share our views with you all. Let the counting process be completed fully and the VVPATs matched.’’
Reacting, BJP’s national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargia said, “It reflects the electors’ anti-Trinamool mood because of the atrocities by the ruling party… The days of Trinamool’s misrule are numbered.’’
The BJP, which had managed only two seats five years ago, improved its vote share from 17% in 2014 to over 39% in 2019. The Left in Bengal was decimated with just 6% vote share. The party even failed to retain its two strongholds — Raiganj and Murshidabad.
The BJP’s penetration in Bengal is a clear indication that a daunting political challenge lies ahead for the TMC as the state is headed for Assembly polls in two years.
BJP’s Locket Chatterjee’s lead from Hooghly was considered significant because it was the place from where Mamata launched her anti-land acquisition agitation in Singur, which catapulted her into the national spotlight.
TMC also received a massive jolt in tribal-dominated constituencies in Jungle Mahal, including Purulia, Jhargram, Midnapore and Bankura, despite the Bengal CM claiming to have carried out a slew of development works in the region.
Political analysts in Bengal found BJP’s deep inroads in Bengal were a reflection of sharp polarisation among electors.
“Other than minority appeasement, which is Mamata often accused of, issues such as corruption among local TMC leaders and depriving people their right to vote in last year’s panchayat elections led voters to shift to the saffron side,’’ said a political science professor of Presidency University.
Trinamool insiders admitted that corruption and extortion by the leaders in the party’s lower rung was a key reason behind the disastrous performance.
“The CM never missed an opportunity to claim how Bengal is ahead of all states on account of development. But at the same time, she had to accept corruption among the local leaders of her party. While addressing a rally before the polls in Jhargram, she urged the people saying if the local leaders did anything wrong, punish her, instead of withdrawing support from her party,’’ said a Trinamul leader in Kolkata.
Trinamool won in more than 34% seats uncontested as the party allegedly did not allow their rival candidates to submit their nomination. While the BJP had a set a target of winning 23 seats in Bengal, the Trinamool supremo claimed her party would bag all 42 seats.
Congress, which never had much sway in the state, managed to keep only Berhampur, won by Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury. President Pranab Mukherjee’s son Abhijit failed to retain his seat, Jangipur.
Chowdhury said the trend was a reflection of Modi wave in Bengal. “People did not vote for BJP, they for Modi. BJP successfully divided the electors in Bengal into two on religion issues,’’ he said.