Devadeep Purohit, TT, Calcutta, May 19: Saradha, Narada, a flyover collapse and the might of a CPM-Congress combine – throw anything at her, Mamata Banerjee still wins. And wins big.
Defying the odds stacked against her party, Mamata today raced past the two-thirds majority mark with a score of 211 seats in a 294-member House, leaving the Opposition alliance, or jote , looking like a cruel joke with a tally of 77, including an Independent it had backed.
Alliance leader Surjya Kanta Mishra, the CPM state secretary who had been boasting about forming the next government, himself lost.
The extent of Mamata’s victory is stunning. As the colour green spread across the map of Bengal, it was evident that marching from her fortress in the south, Mamata was now conquering large parts of the region north of the Ganga.
The number of seats jumped by 27 from her tally in 2011, when she fought with the Congress in an alliance, and her vote share shot up by around 6.5 per cent to 44.9 per cent, the best-ever for her party.
“We got 184 seats last time, but then we were in an alliance. This time, all the Opposition parties had ganged up against us, but still we got more than two-thirds of the seats,” Mamata said at a news conference this afternoon.
Based on the numbers of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, in which the Left and Congress together had a 39.6 per cent vote share – almost the same as Trinamul’s – the alliance leaders had thundered before the polls that Mamata’s time in the hot seat was over. The hubris saw the partners reduced to rump parties with the Congress bagging 44 seats and the Left a pathetic 32.
Although a couple of exit polls had indicated a landslide victory for the Trinamul Congress, party insiders had confessed in private that they were not expecting a big win because of a number of developments in the run-up to the polls.
Adding to the festering Saradha scandal, the Narada sting showed people resembling MPs, MLAs and other leaders of Trinamul accepting cash from a journalist posing as a businessman. Even as the Trinamul leadership was trying, unsuccessfully, to douse the flames of this controversy, the Vivekananda Road flyover collapsed, killing 26 people.
The entire Opposition, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, tried to turn corruption into the key issue in the polls, forcing Mamata to go on the defensive and even admit that she could have done something about ticket distribution had she known earlier that some leaders had purportedly been caught accepting money.
Today’s massive mandate brought a 180-degree turn. “There is no corruption in Bengal…. Bengal is a corruption-less state,” Mamata said in reply to a question on the Narada tapes.
“The campaign on corruption was false and the people defeated it,” she added.
Given that all the leaders supposedly seen on the Narada tapes, except one – Madan Mitra – won, Mamata’s claim cannot be contested.
Election done and dusted, Mamata now faces the immediate challenge of snuffing out post-results violence. A Trinamul worker was hacked to death allegedly by Congress supporters in Purulia while several party offices of the Opposition were ransacked or torched.
After a fiercely competitive campaign, the violence could spin out of control unless she acts quickly. As she opens her second innings, her first task will be to restore people’s steadily dwindling faith in the law-and-order machinery.
Despite tall claims, her first five years were arid in terms of industrial investment. Without new industry and jobs, trainloads of Bengalis will continue to head out of the state in search of work.
Also, the victory will not change the fact that the state’s finances are in a mess with a debt exceeding Rs 200,000 crore.
Asked how she would describe her victory, Mamata said: “Unnayan ar manusher joy (It’s a victory of development and people).”
Seasoned politicians like Mamata have the gift of the gab to describe complex outcomes in simple language, leaving a lot to the imagination. The Telegraph tries to unravel the mystery behind the massive mandate.
Joker in the pack
One major reason for Trinamul’s success could be a swing in BJP votes in favour of the ruling party. The BJP’s vote share has dropped to a little over 10 per cent from around 13 per cent (minus the share of its ally, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha) in the Lok Sabha polls.
Political scientist Biswanath Chakraborty said: “The lion’s share of the votes BJP lost this time went to Trinamul. The alliance was expecting BJP votes to come to its kitty, but that has been proven wrong.”
Chakraborty explained that BJP voters would be expected to be anti-Left and anti-Congress and would tend to gravitate towards Trinamul.
Besides, with a vote share of over 10 per cent, the BJP in many places would have made the contest triangular and split the anti-Mamata vote.
“There are several seats – and the number can be as high as 100 – where the quantum of BJP votes was more than Trinamul’s victory margin. This means the BJP queered the pitch for the alliance,” Chakraborty said.
Alliance leaders linked the switch of BJP votes to Trinamul to a tacit understanding between the two parties. At the news conference, Mamata had to face questions about her possible dalliance with the BJP to remain relevant in national politics.
She, however, distanced herself from the BJP but without the usual belligerence. “I cannot go with the BJP because of my ideological differences. But if there are issues linked to the interests of common people, I can extend support,” she said, referring to her backing for the Goods and Services Tax Bill.
Left high & dry
A section of the Alimuddin Street leadership complained that the Congress had failed to transfer its votes in favour of Left candidates. The allegation, CPM sources said, was aimed at deflecting criticism within the party for the alliance flop show.
The combined vote share of the Left and the Congress in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls was 39.6 per cent, while this time it has dropped to 38.2 per cent – 25.9 per cent for the Left and 12.3 per cent for the Congress. This would appear to indicate a drop in the Left’s vote share from 2014, but the Left contested 200 seats instead of all the 294.
“It is convenient to blame the Congress for the decline in vote share. But we must introspect and admit that even the alliance contributed to Trinamul’s kitty,” said a CPM state committee member.
One of the major problems the CPM has been facing since Mamata’s ascendance to power is that she has made what were once core Left issues her own.
After riding to power with her land acquisition protests, Mamata stuck to her stand against forcible takeover of land. Despite representations from industry, she did not climb down from her opposition to SEZs.
“While the class character of our party changed and we started talking about big industry and the need to support businessmen, she became more Left than us and usurped our place. We had nothing new to offer,” said a CPM insider.
As most Left leaders remained locked into the rhetoric of the past, their foot soldiers moved en masse to Trinamul. The victories of leaders like Asok Bhattacharya in Siliguri and Sujan Chakraborty in Jadavpur prove the value of organising public movements against the government, a CPM source said.
“So many things went against us, but Sujanda and Asokda won and it was possible only because they were seen taking part in movements. Our other leaders were not visible,” said the source.
It was the month of December last year and talk of an alliance between the Congress and the Left was still at an early stage. Mamata was worried.
After a government programme in Birbhum, Mamata explained to her close aides how she had reached the 8.25 crore people of Bengal through various programmes, ranging from subsidised grains to scholarships for minority students. “Won’t these people vote for us?” she had asked and all her aides had nodded in agreement that evening.
Mamata has often been criticised for the way she spends public money, which increases the burden on an already-stressed government exchequer, but the poll outcome vindicates the politics of creating beneficiaries across the state.
Her strategy of repeated personal visits, complemented by various government schemes, has brought her 24 of the 54 seats in north Bengal. Mamata’s predecessors hardly paid attention to the region.
Similarly, of the 10 seats in the Maoist-hit areas of West Midnapore and Purulia districts – where Mamata rolled out several schemes for the poor – Trinamul has won eight.
Opposition leaders in Jungle Mahal found rice at Rs 2 per kg and cycles for students to be Mamata’s masterstrokes in a deprived region. “It is a fact that we failed to ensure rice for poor people residing in the most backward regions in our state. During our regime, ration dealers became corrupt and poor people were deprived of their basic amenities. We may have criticised Mamata for giving out doles, but it seems to have worked for her,” said a CPM leader from West Midnapore.
Data compiled by Meghdeep Bhattacharyya