It was rather late in the day for West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to go all Gandhian, but better late than never! Her lone three hour protest at the ‘Gandhi Murti’ in Kolkata, during which she indulged her hobby for painting, was a far more effective gesture than all the rants her campaign has witnessed thus far. And the Election Commission has to be thanked for this transformation, even though she has described her 24 hour campaign ban as ‘unconstitutional’. The challenger to her throne, the BJP, has also been hit with an even more severe ban on its leader Rahul Sinha, but that counts for little in Didi’s estimation.
It has been a high voltage election, thus far, in West Bengal, which has earned an ugly reputation for empowering lumpen elements at the cost of every other section of society. Since the time of Leftist rule, mafia style governance has increasingly become the norm. The TMC acquired tremendous expertise in hijacking elections, even to the extent of not allowing opposition candidates to file their nominations. It required all the skills of the Election Commission to plan and execute something like a fair contest.
The eight phase elections were an essential part of this strategy, even though these were bound to have an impact on the manner in which people would vote. It was only natural for Mamata Banerjee to be miffed with this plan, because each phase has to be contested afresh. In a shorter election, her domination as the ‘real power’ in the state may well have influenced voter behaviour. However, with fortunes fluctuating with each phase, there is enough scope for swing voters to change their minds. As a result, her image of invulnerability has been destroyed bit by bit. But she has no one to blame, because there is no way that the EC can permit the election to be hijacked by local Mafioso.
Does she represent Bengali ‘asmita’ in the minds of the people, an image that she has been working hard to cultivate? That would require most Bengalis to think as one – but her more than overt appeasement of a particular votebank has put paid to that. Already divided by the fascination of some for Communism, the Bengalis have also been reminded by the BJP of the many neglected sections that were taken for granted by every government in the past forty years. Mamata has no answer and can only hope that, after the dust has settled, her residual votebank among the Hindus will be enough to get her through.