In the face of tough competition from the BJP, the ruling Trinamool Congress(TMC), led by Mamta Banerjee has won the West Bengal assembly elections for the third consecutive term. The 2021 elections were bitter and embroiled in controversy. Amidst the rising cases of COVID-19 in the state and the country as a whole, rallies were being held in order to bank as many votes as possible. The Bhartiya Janata Party deployed all its resources to fight the election in West Bengal creating a media frenzy. TV studios in Delhi and Mumbai believed that the people of Bengal, to a large extent, did not want Mamta Banerjee to be the Chief Minister again. BJP used some of its biggest faces, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and Home Minister, Amit Shah, to be the spokespeople for the Bengal campaign. It was widely accepted that TMC would not be coming to power. However, the BJP came up short in the election. The Trinamool Congress swept the state, capturing 48 percent of the vote and 73 percent of the seats – its strongest victory ever.
REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri
How did they do it? Here are some of the reasons behind TMC's emphatic victory.
1. Mamta Banerjee's welfare state
Since 2011, when TMC first came to power it has focused greatly on creating a welfare state. Cash transfers to unmarried girls who remain in school, grants to the ones that get married, scholarships to Dalits and other minorities. The government even paid for funeral costs and compensation for the deaths of farmers. Pensions for old ages and widows were also made. The government made cash transfers for any problem that arose. This was done to a point that it pushed the growth rate of the state's rural per capita consumption expenditure as well as poverty reduction past the national average.
The national media believed that Mamata Banerjee’s welfare apparatus created polarisation of the community in West Bengal however these complaints were more often than not made by those who were left out of the programs. Banerjee's welfare programs were able to make far more people happy than not.
2. TMC's Party organization
"In West Bengal, the key term is 'party'. It is indeed the elementary institution of rural life in the state - not family, not kinship, not caste, not religion, not market, but party. It is the institution that mediates every single sphere of social activity," noted political scientist, Partha Chatterjee. Thus, in West Bengal, the party with a stronger organizational base has the edge. In this aspect, BJP was no match for TMC. Like its predecessors, CPI, TMC has mastered the art of winning despite political discontent and economic concerns.
Even though these aspects of the Bengal elections were not paid any heed by the media they were important aspects in the re-election of Mamta Banerjee.
3. Minority vote
The controversy around BJP and the implementation of a religion-based national registry have caused the Muslims of Bengal to be on the fence about the party. In 2021, the BJP rallies were not as polarising as some of their previous ones, yet, their past came back to haunt them in the state elections of Bengal. Due to the collapse of Congress in two Muslim majority districts, the votes had been transferred to the TMC.
4. Women's vote
The Trinamool Congress is the only political party with more female voters than male voters. A significant number of women in Bengal are staunch supporters of Banerjee and TMC. Research suggests that voting patterns and preferences between men and women in Bengal are extremely different, as a result, both parties have been forced to regard female voters as a distinct political class to be targeted with schemes and reservations. She is the only woman chief minister in India which made a lot of the Bengali women resonate with her. Moreover, some extremely distasteful comments by BJP leaders also increased her popularity amongst women in West Bengal. Women make half of the voting population and thus bring massive support to the TMC.
5. Mamta Banerjee's persona and state elections
Mamata Banerjee has often been referred to as Didi. In reality, most people refer to her as Didi rather than Mamata. Didi's persona is so solid that it may very well be her real name. The fact that Mamata Banerjee is the state's tallest leader is undeniable. In a poll conducted just before the elections, she earned a huge 57 percent approval rating as chief minister. Even during the general elections of 2019, the BJP had fallen short of a majority. Further deterioration was bound to happen considering the fact that local MLA's and Mamta Banerjee's image was at play.
6. Bengali Nationalism
For the longest time, Mamata Banerjee‘s TMC did not have an ideological core because of West Bengal's left-wing politics, identity was rarely discussed as a political context. However when facing BJP – a party with a strong ideological core, it was forced to change. It went with the obvious choice of Bengali nationalism. While the Trinamool Congress claimed to be a nativist force as compared to the BJP who were outsiders. The Trinamool, for months, called the BJP a party of "bohiragotos." While on the ground it had little effect but the TMC was left with an effective narrative for the media.
7. BJP's COVID fiasco
The immediate cause of TMC‘s victory over BJP was the mismanagement of Covid 19. The election commission held the Bengal election in eight phases. This would allow BJP to hamper the organizational advantage of the Trinamool Congress. From mid-March, the COVID-19 cases in India started to rise exponentially. However, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah continued to hold rallies and canvass West Bengal. This negatively impacted the image of Modi. He went from being a selfless leader to someone who focuses solely on vote bank politics.
Even when they stopped their campaign BJP took a big hit. The Bengal BJP unit was unable to garner support without the help of the Centre. The Trinamool Congress took advantage of this situation and banked on its strategy at the organizational level.