NEW DELHI: A day after Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee led the Trinamool Congress to a spectacular victory by defeating the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in the eastern Indian state of Bengal, experts on Monday warned that the BJP’s loss in the crucial regional polls could have significant implications on national politics.
Five state assemblies went to the polls last month. However, the Bengal polls were the most watched and bitterly contested, with the top BJP leadership putting everything at stake to wrest the largest state in eastern India.
During the campaign, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed 38 election rallies in the eight-phase elections, while almost all of his Cabinet remained in Bengal for over a month in a bid to secure votes.
In a house of 294, Bengal’s ruling TMC improved its performance by winning 213 seats — three more than in the previous poll — while the BJP secured 77, a poor result compared with the previous parliamentary elections when it won 18 out of 42 parliamentary seats or roughly 140 seats in the local assembly.
“This is a historic and significant victory as we managed to stop the march of communal forces in Bengal,” TMC leader Ananya Chakraborty told Arab News.
“The secular fabric of the nation was saved by defeating the BJP. Had they won, it would have given them extra power to turn this nation into a Hindu majoritarian state,” Chakraborty added.
However, political experts differed in their analysis of the verdict, with some describing it as “a major setback to Modi’s political charisma” and others as a result of voter “resentment.”
“This is the first time Modi’s dominance is being challenged decisively,” Sudheendra Kulkarni, a Mumbai-based political analyst and the former political adviser to the first BJP government in 1999, told Arab News.
“Never in the history of the BJP since 1980 has it fought a state election with a total determination to win and in which the prime minister put everything at stake. Still, they could manage only 77 seats, which is 50 less than what they have gained in 2019 parliamentary elections,” he added.
“This TMC victory has given hope to the opposition that the BJP can be defeated. I anticipate that Mamata Banerjee will become a magnet for opposition unity in months to come.”
However, Hilal Ahmed of the New Delhi-based think tank, the Center for the Study of Developing Societies, warned against “overestimating the TMC victory.”
“The BJP has not merely won elections in the last few years, but has also been successful in transforming Hindu majoritarianism into the dominant narrative of Indian politics,” Ahmad told Arab News.
“There is certainly resentment against the regime,” he said, adding that “there is no counter-narrative.”
Chakraborty agreed, adding that the TMC party with “limited resources was fighting the mighty Indian state with unlimited resources.”
“The victory will have great political implications in future,” Chakraborty said.
However, the BJP claimed that it has done “well” in Bengal.
“The BJP has emerged as the main opposition with complete decimation of the Congress and the Left,” Sudesh Verma, party spokesperson, told Arab News.
India’s principal opposition Congress party could not open its account in the state this time with left-wing parties such as the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India, Forward Block and more — which ruled the state for 35 years until 2006 when they lost power to the TMC — also facing a similar fate.
“The ground has been prepared for certain victory for the BJP next time,” Verma said.
Bengal-based political activist Zim Nawaz said that the poll results were a “rejection” of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
Under the CAA, members of Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Parsi and Christian minorities who moved to India from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan before Dec. 31, 2014, are eligible to become citizens. Muslims are excluded.
The legislation is part of the government’s proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) initiative to identify “genuine citizens” of India.
If any non-Muslims are left out of the NRC, they will not be declared stateless because the CAA will protect them — a privilege denied to Muslims.
Most of the 1.9 million people left off the NRC were Bengali Hindus, who form part of the party’s core vote. Illegal migration was also a prominent issue in Bengal during the election campaign.
The BJP was banking on the support of the Hindu Matua community, which constitutes close to 20 percent of the state’s population. The Matuas migrated to India in large numbers during the Bangladesh liberation war in 1971.
Under the CAA, the Matuas — despite having legal documents and residing as Indian citizens for decades — would be forced to declare themselves as refugees before claiming Indian citizenship again.
In the 2019 parliamentary elections, the Matuas voted overwhelmingly for the BJP, helping the party win 18 out of 42 seats after it promised to grant them citizenship rights.
However, the CAA has not been implemented because New Delhi has yet to frame the law’s rules.
Several in the Matua community have protested against the move, with the BJP’s lack of clarity on the matter forcing the community to question the party’s intent, experts say.
“Unlike the 2019 elections, the BJP could not get the Matuas’ vote en bloc. This shows their disenchantment,” Nawaz said. “By the next election, they will completely stop voting for the BJP.”
Besides Bengal, the results for Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry Assembly elections were also announced on Sunday.
While the BJP retained its spot in Assam, it lost power to the regional Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-led alliance in Tamil Nadu in southern India.
In Kerala, the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) claimed a historic win by retaining power in a state known to change hands every five years.