NEW DELHI: A day after Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee led the Trinamool Congress to a spectacular victory by defeating the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in the eastern Indian state of Bengal, experts on Monday warned the BJP’s loss in the crucial regional polls could have significant implications for national politics also.
Five state assemblies went to the polls last month. However, Bengal polls were the most watched and bitterly contested, with the top BJP leadership putting everything at stake to wrest the largest state in eastern India.
During the poll campaigning process, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed 38 election rallies in the eight-phase elections, while nearly his entire cabinet camped in Bengal for over a month to secure the votes.
But in a house of 294, Bengal’s ruling TMC bested its performance by winning 213 seats – three more than last time – while the BJP secured 77, a poor show compared to the previous parliamentary elections when it won 18 out of 42 parliamentary seats or roughly 140 seats in the local assembly.
Sunday’s defeat also came as Modi is being slammed publicly for failing to tackle India’s explosive spike in coronavirus infections that has left the country in deep crisis, with hospital and crematoriums swamped and people dying for lack of oxygen.
“This is a historic and significant victory as we managed to stop the march of communal forces in Bengal,” TMC leader Ananya Chakraborty told Arab News.
Political experts are calling the verdict “a great setback to Modi’s political charisma,” saying it was the result of voter “resentment”.
“This is the first time Modi’s dominance is being challenged decisively,” Sudheendra Kulkarni, a Mumbai-based political analyst and the former political adviser to the first BJP government in 1999, told Arab News.
“Never in the history of the BJP since 1980 has it fought a state election with a total determination to win and in which the prime minister put everything at stake. Still, they could manage only 77 seats, which is 50 less than what they have gained in 2019 parliamentary elections,” he added.
Kulkarni said the victory of the TMC had “given hope to the opposition that the BJP can be defeated. I anticipate that Mamta Bannerjee will become a magnet for the opposition unity in the months to come”.
Modi has held an iron grip on Indian politics since sweeping to power in 2014 and winning a bigger victory in the 2019 national election on the back of a strong Hindu ideology.
Until now there has been no challenger and with the main opposition Congress party unable to get its act together, Modi has been expected to win the 2024 national poll.
But images of people dying from COVID-19 in hospital parking lots and corridors because of lack of beds, hospitals themselves begging for life saving oxygen supplies and overflowing crematoriums have shaken the public mood, opinion polls show.
Confidence in the government’s handling of the crisis has plummeted since February when the second wave of infections started, according to a survey among urban Indians by polling agency YouGov.
Even so, Dr. Hilal Ahmed of New Delhi-based think tank, the Center for the Study of Developing Societies, still warned against “overestimating the TMC victory”.
“One should not overestimate the TMC victory. The BJP has not merely won elections in the last few years, but it has also been successful in transforming Hindu majoritarianism into the dominant narrative of Indian politics,” Ahmad told Arab News.