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Battle Continues

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The trends as counting of votes progressed on Sunday for the five state assembly elections and the various bypolls were largely in sync with the estimates made by the exit polls. The surprise was the margin with which the Trinamool Congress seemed to be winning in West Bengal. It was predicted that there would be a small gap of 1 or 2 percent of the votes polled between TMC and the BJP, but, in the winner takes all system, it seems to have translated into a thumping victory for the incumbent party.

Nothing could have better affirmed the nature of Indian Democracy – power lies in the hands of the people. The TMC should be happy that the elaborate measures taken by the Election Commission to ensure impartiality in the polling process leave the losers no scope to accuse it of electoral malpractices. It was a formidable battle between master campaigner Narendra Modi and the local ‘David’, Mamata Banerjee. The people did not accept the polarisation bid by the BJP on communal lines, and its ‘development’ pitch, and chose to go, instead, with their ‘Bengali’ identity. The division may actually prove to be on geographical lines between the ‘Bhadralok’ culture and the subaltern communities, including the tribals. If true, this has implications for the future of West Bengal.

The key to Banerjee’s success ultimately was her positioning as the daughter of Bengal – the BJP had no local alternative from its own eco-system and had leaders borrowed from the TMC and recent celebrity inductees. However, with the eradication of the Left and Congress, it has become the main opposition. With TMC depending entirely on Mamata Banerjee, the BJP will dig in and continue with a long term strategy now that the blitzkrieg approach has not worked. With her firmly ensconced as the Chief Minister for the next five years, India’s regional parties will be under pressure to make her chairperson of a federal front to lead the fight at the Centre. The time for that would be now because there is still time for the next general elections.

In the larger context, the BJP’s campaign to expand outside the Hindi-Hindutva heartland continues to produce mixed results. While the RSS is making efforts at the grassroots, high profile leadership is still lacking in these states. It may have managed to retain Assam and take Puducherry, but needs to acquire a local identity in states like Tamilnadu and Kerala that overcomes the ideological barriers.