West Bengal elections would remain the most remarkable, rememberable and inexpungible journey in Indian electoral politics for it went far beyond making and unmaking leaders, winning and losing parties and throning and dethroning rulers. These elections, unlike many others, indicate to many directions that the electoral politics of the country may take, confirms and reaffirms many defining trends of the travails of our democratic processes and put out in bold letters the lessons that must be learnt by our institutions including the political parties and the political game players. The occasion also throws open an enormous opportunity to look back and also look beyond the usual interpretations and explanations.
Election times are extra ordinary times but the conclusion of the elections may not be that extra ordinary. Political parties do prepare a lot for the event but people usually are prepared for the day and campaigns and counter campaigns do only refreshing job unless some unexpected events like Pulwama take place. More often than not the principles emerging out of the elections are plain, simple and directive in nature. This is why many a time the results defy the studies or even the exit polls conclusions. The studies generally complicate the underlining principle of the elections which is merely the process to run the system. The simple and ordinary will of the people is decoratively termed as wave or storm or tsunami this way or that way. Such is the aura and glamour of these colorful decorative findings that the players, especially the winners, tend to be made superlatives – even to the extent of seeming completely infallible.
None gave a slightest credence to the repeated reiteration of Prasant Kishor that BJP would not cross the double-digit limit. None thought much on ‘Didi O Didi’ rhyme or not so decent comments over Mamata’s style of wearing sari over her knees or mocking her reported injury, which were going too deep in Bengali conscience making Didi look like a victim of arrogance and indecency almost washing out the deep anti-incumbency sentiments. After all, the elections were being fought over complete non-issues and no projects or programs were being placed before the people from either side.
But this was not happening for the first time in our electoral scene. Glamorous studies and surveys coupled with our ‘yes sir’ culture have never allowed the unpleasant truths to pass on to the top. In our system ‘the top’ always becomes immune to the ground realities – none who matter ever dared to put the uncomfortable facts before the visibly and acceptedly masculine top, be it either Indira Gandhi or Narendra Modi. And so, inherently, many at the top around them felt tacitly but eloquently joyful whenever some troubles emerged for both of them.
It is only after the results that the West Bengal chief of BJP Dilip Ghosh said that the campaign management made by the party’s central committee was largely responsible for the debacle thus confirming that the campaign strategy decided by the party high command did not take the local leaders on board – the Congress way of doing things. None dares to caution Narendra Modi as none dared with Indira Gandhi – all only listening to and agreeing to whatever is being told.
But again, this is one side of the story. Other side goes to another climax – the results demolished BJP, the aura of invincibility is gone, the glamour of Narendra Modi evaporated and Amit Shah’s adjective of being Chanakya became a fallacy. Talks of Mamata Banerjee leading the coalition and becoming the Prime Minister in 2024 became the air and the print of the day!
But how far really West Bengal verdict looks unique? After all this is not the first state to stop BJP coming to power. Bihar did it right after 2014 Modi tsunami. Rajasthan, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh too did it. Delhi did it too remarkably. Haryana wrote a different story and Maharashtra put a very different face. Post 2015 Nitish Kumar became axis of opposition unity and the potential Prime Minister.
So far West Bengal is concerned, it never gave any thing to BJP except Shyama Prasad Mukherjee who founded Bhartiya Jansangh, the earlier version of BJP and Didi herself who became an important stalwart and component of Vajpayee’s NDA. Therefore, dreaming of ruling West Bengal was, in all sensible terms, was too soon for BJP and thus losing there fighting against the fighter daughter of the state was not at all even a great news – let alone the stated humiliation for the party – stretching the principles of science of politics any far. Prasant Kishor, given his exposure in observing and shaping the pulse of the people, knew this too well and did tell this in simple and firm terms.
BJP high command too knew this but then no fighter must accept the supremacy of the opponent even though acknowledging it. RSS had been working at the grass roots of West Bengal and they knew the ground realties of the state. A tough fight was need of the day and the fight did yield the desired result, not fully but of course remarkably.
Left has been the avowed enemy of the right all over universe – back home, for BJP it has been communists. The biggest and fiercest of communists came from West Bengal – it virtually took birth at the land. Every second person of a generation of West Bengal has been a communist – by ethos if not by practice. Whole of communists’ voices in Indian parliament was predominantly from West Bengal, all left trade unions would have apex leaders from West Bengal. West Bengal trade and commerce world would feel terror of the trade union leaders and none would dare even give a public statement against them. Came 2011 and Mamata Banerjee snatched Writers Building from them after over three decades and in 2021 Mamata Banerjee – BJP fierce and lethal battle removed communists thoroughly from the state – there will be none from the communists in the assembly! This has been unique and outstanding feature of the West Bengal mandate which would have long lasting impact on the national politics.
The mandate also reiterated and underlined the overwhelming ethos envisaged by the constitution for our political system – the federal structure of Union of India. Of late, people have been refusing the concept of ‘double engine’ polity and instead have been vouching for different political set ups for the state and the center. Repeated surveys have revealed that Narendra Modi’s popularity remains intact at the top even on the face of continued refusal of accepting his ethos. This is reason while people come in great numbers to listen to him it does not translate to votes to that proportion. The ruling dispensation at the center, be it whatever party, has to accept that gone are the days of one-party rule in the entire country.
This also implies that the popularity and indispensability of state satraps does not at all indicate a mandate on the center. TV anchors and political commentators may go on shouting comparing the voters’ choice during the general election and state elections, people have become mature enough to differentiate between the two. Odisha state election clubbed with the general election proved the point very eloquently. Even though three of the four states elected the regional party to rule them, it does not mean that they rejected BJP rule at the center. It would, therefore, be in the fitness of the things that both BJP and the regional parties understand this underlying factor and accept the spirit of it.
With every election our democracy has cemented further. It is heartening that allegations of irregularities have almost vanished from political spectrum and our electoral system has become more robust, credible and respectable.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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