India PM's party defeated in West Bengal regional elections

West Bengal election: Modi defeated in key state amid criticism of Covid crisis handling

Trinamool Congress secured about 50 per cent of the votes polled in the elections

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has suffered electoral defeat in West Bengal state selections at a time of fierce criticism of his handling of the Covid-19 emergency.

Despite spearheading his Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) campaign, the state was held by Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, a strong critic of the Indian leader.

Trinamool Congress won 213 seats, an increase on the previous tally of 211 seats gained in 2016 elections.

The BJP, which won 77 of the 292 seats available, have never won in West Bengal, but the defeat was still notable at a time of crisis in India, due to the pandemic.

Overall, Trinamool Congress’s vote share was almost 48 per cent compared to 38 per cent for the BJP. Other major players such as the left wing parties, which ruled over West Bengal for nearly 35 years until 2011, and the Indian National Congress drew a blank with no seats.

Ms Banerjee’s win victory means she is all set to return for a third term of five years. She is India’s only female state leader.

Political analyst Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay told The Independent preliminary voting data indicated that anger over central government’s handling of pandemic had cost it votes.

The “rapidly deteriorating Covid-19 situation in India & the rising anger against the central government during the last four phases did play a role on the BJP’s fortunes and it did not make the expected gains,” he said.

West Bengal elections were crucial for the BJP as Mamata Banerjee is a strong regional leader and has been a strong critic of Modi’s. The BJP has never been in power in West Bengal and had they won it would have been a massive sign of approval for Modi’s party, especially at a time of crisis.

Despite criticism of huge electoral rallies at the time of the coronavirus second wave, the BJP’s election campaign was minutely planned by India’s Home Minister Amit Shah, considered an astute election planner. During the elections, the BJP used all possible weapons in its arsenal ranging from a series of rallies to most of its top ministers camping in the state.

Mr Mukhopadhyay said the result was politically noteworthy for several reasons.

“First of all, there was no strong leader to counter Mamata Banerjee. Secondly, the BJP leaders led by the PM himself went overboard with the ‘Didi-o-Didi’ slogan which for many in West Bengal resembled a catcall. The state BJP president derogatory Dilip Ghosh also made remarks about her clothing. The slander used against Ms Banerjee definitely went against the BJP,” said Mr Mukhopadhyay.

Following the massive loss, some BJP leaders blamed people of the minority community voting in favour of Ms Banerjee as a reason behind their loss.

Professor Rakesh Sinha, a member of parliament representing the BJP, tweeted: “Wake up call: Minority veto in electoral politics will be devastating for our secular democracy.”

But Mr Mukhopadhyay said that Mr Modi now needs  to go back to the office of the prime minister and “administer – something that he was elected for”.

“The country cannot risk him out campaigning anymore while the pandemic continues. He was chosen in 2014 on account of his governance model in Gujarat but today that is in shambles. He needs to go back to the drawing board otherwise, in 2024, people of the country will find an alternative themselves by simply voting against him continuing in the PM’s office like what they did in 1977 and 2004,” he said.

He said Ms Banerjee also has the task cut out for her with handling the Covid-19 situation in West Bengal but the victory “definitely starts the conversations about her role as a future national alternative to Mr Modi”.

Over the past few years, Ms Banerjee is among the few opposition leaders in India who have continuously matched Mr Modi and his party’s sharp attacks.

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