By Arun Srivastava
Just 48 hours ahead of her being formally sworn in as the chief minister, TMC chief Mamata Banerjee moved one step forward to stake her say in the national politics. For the experts and the political establishment, who till May 1 were sure of Mamata losing the election to the BJP triumvirate, Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and J P Nadda, a new hope of India and “agent of national political change” has been resurrected. This is undoubtedly the most coveted complement for her, but at the same time underlines the desperation of the secular and liberal forces to take on the rightist power.
Some experts try to hide Modi-Shah’s defeat behind the façade of underperformance in comparison to their hold on the Centre; they could not comprehend that the politics of hatred and insinuation has its own limit. During their sixty odd public rallies the duo simply used this as the electoral toolkit. They preferred to forget that the people, particularly the middle class and the women of the state, were getting butchered by corona. While they were flying across the country to campaign for their candidates, they ignored the basic task of organising and motivating the bureaucracy to take the epidemic head on.
In contrast, even while she was engaged in the tough battle of protecting her fort, Mamata cautioned the people against any negligence and advised them to take precautionary measures. Once the war is over and she won the battle, Mamata has made her first major foray into the national arena demanding free Covid vaccination for the 137 crore Indians across the country.
“We will give free vaccination to all people in the state and I demand free vaccination for 140 crore people in the country,” she thundered. In case the central government fumbles or fails to vaccinate the entire population she will start a non-violent movement from the Gandhi statue on the Maidan (in Calcutta) very soon. She also said; “They have the Reserve Bank (of India) with them… The cost of vaccinating everyone in the country will be Rs 30,000 crore. Why can’t they do it?”
For her the top priority after taking charge of the government is battling the Covid pandemic. Her decision has also been inspired by two factors; while corona has been ravaging the country no political leader of national stature has come out with the demand for free vaccination to all the 137 crore Indians and secondly, Modi has been utterly mishandling the mechanism to fight the epidemic. What is shocking indeed is the government charging a huge amount from the people for vaccination. The poor and daily labourers, who have been forced to starve as they are denied livelihood, would find it a tough proposition to pay the charge. Besides, the rate is also not uniform. The unscrupulous people are taking advantage of the government policy.
Mamata intends to make a proactive intervention in the national politics was clear from her writing the letter to the opposition leaders in the beginning of the month. At that time the BJP and close aides of Modi and Shah had decried it as the sign of her desperation to garner support as she was on the verge of losing the electoral battle. But her poise has made it explicit that she is raring to take on Modi-Shah combine at national level when other opposition parties were wavering to on them.
Mamata’s spectacular win notwithstanding tremendous odds are stacked against her. She has been defeated in Nandigram, and it is the testament to her prowess as a politician. Though anti incumbency brazenly stared at her face, she managed to turn the odds in her favour. Ironically the opportunity was provided to her by Modi-Shah using their offices and skills to polarise the Bengali society. There is no denying the fact that in the fight of political acumen she triumphed over Modi-Shah.
It is not that Modi-Shah combine faced their first electoral defeat in Bengal. Earlier they met with defeat in Rajasthan and MP. This time they were badly mauled in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, but Bengal had special significance. A win in Bengal would have accorded the BJP a pan Indian character and boosted Modi’s political stature at national level. Ever since Modi-Shah came to power in 2014, they have been scheming to throw out Mamata from power.
Obviously this year’s poll result has wider implications; not only for Bengal, but also for the Lok Sabha elections in 2024. While Mamata has been catapulted on the national scene as a dominant agent of political change, she is being perceived as the opposition face who can take on Modi. Her first step into the national political arena also sends the message that the concept of one nation one party that was floated by Modi has crashed. The TMC win has reinforced the relevance of regional parties, the regional satraps and the necessity of strengthening federalism.
Though the BJP has lost the elections, it is irony that the Central leaders of the party have been striving hard to create a political mess in the state. Their first move was to deny victory to Mamata from Nandigram. On Sunday, it was initially reported that she had won by a margin of 1,200 votes, but the returning officer subsequently announced BJP candidate’s victory by 1,956 votes. The EC reversed the verdict. A miffed Mamata said; “How come the Election Commission reverse the Nandigram result after formally announcing it? We will move court”.
Next day showing a txt message on her mobile she told media; “I received an SMS from someone wherein returning officer of Nandigram has written to someone if he allows recounting then his life would be under threat. For four hours server was down, the Governor also congratulated me. Suddenly everything changed”. This development cannot obstruct her from taking the oath of office, but it certainly creates some sort of political bitterness. To the utter surprise of the media and political circles, the news of EC declaring her loser was announced by the IT cell of the BJP. Then after it was picked up by others.
The fact remains that she is a more matured politician than the BJP leaders. With Subhendu on its side, the BJP could well have won almost all the seats in Midnapore region. But Mamata’s decision to contest from Nandigram helped the TMC win majority of the seats in East Midnapore and West Midnapore, considered to be the strongholds of Subhendu’s family. TMC won 23 out of 31 Assembly segments in two districts. In fact, BJP had expected to win a majority of the 35 seats. Her presence saved the party apparatus from getting crumbled. TMC used the opportunity to expose the involvement of Subhendu in various wrong doings. This put the party on the backfoot. It is worth recalling that surge of the BJP in East and West Midnapores in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls was because of people’s anger against Subhendu.
Notwithstanding the BJP using all its power and resources, the party could not retain its support base in the state. The BJP’s vote share stood at 37.70 per cent, a decline of nearly 3 per cent from its 40.30 per cent votes in 2019. On the other hand, the TMC had increased its vote share to 48.20 per cent from 43.30 per cent in 2019. In other words, a 10 per cent vote gap stood between the two parties. The party could retain this percentage after Modi and Shah addressed nearly 70 rallies. Modi alone addressed 20 rallies. In 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP led in 121 Assembly seats in the state, but tis time it went down to 76. (IPA Service)