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Mamata wrecks Modi’s facade in West Bengal

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SILIGURI: Supporters of the All India Trinamool Congress celebrate the party’s lead in elections to West Bengal’s legislative assembly on Sunda —AFP

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee landed a two-thirds resounding sweep on Sunday in crucial state polls that saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi snubbed for leading the BJP’s charge in a state that has been a bastion against his divisive politics.

“Bengal has saved India,” Ms Banerjee said as her Trinamool Congress (TMC) arrived at a score of 215 seats in a 294-member assembly. The BJP appeared a distant second with 78 seats as final tallies were awaited.

Ms Banerjee said her first priority would be to fight the Covid-19 pandemic that has spread across India due to a combination of factors, including the election rallies addressed assiduously by Mr Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. Crowded religious festivals have also contributed hugely to the run on hospitals, oxygen and medicines.

Kerala results returned the Left Front government with 99 seats in the 140-member assembly. It was a resounding win over the Congress party’s tally of 41 seats.

And, this is where both parties would need to sort out their ideological confusion at a pan-India level. After all they were together with the DMK-led coalition in Tamil Nadu, where they have won a small number of seats under the DMK’s umbrella.

But the Congress and the Left Front were together also in West Bengal, targeting Mamata Banerjee with the help of a Muslim cleric who was the main speaker at their public rallies.

The communists won a seat, the Congress none.

Mr Modi in his mocking tone had told Ms Banerjee to vacate the chief minister’s office even before the elections were called. “Didi. O Didi. You have lost,” Mr Modi said repeatedly in countless rallies.

TMC MP Mahua Moitra believes it was the prime minister’s “catcalling” that worried Bengal’s middle class women who decided to stave him off.

The Left Front, which had supported the BJP behind the scenes, was reduced to a single seat from its previous tally of seven. “Pehle Ram, Phir Baam,” said communist cadres — first Ram, and then left — who reportedly helped transfer the party’s votes in Nandigram, the constituency where Ms Banerjee was reportedly trailing to a party turncoat who joined the BJP before the polls.

The TMC has petitioned the election commission for a recount, though Ms Banerjee said it was not material to the massive sweep. According to the rules, if the recount doesn’t change the result in her favour, Ms Banerjee would need to win an assembly seat within six months, presumably vacated by one of her MLAs.

Mr Modi had accused Ms Banerjee of not respecting Lord Ram, to which she tartly replied: “I am Brahmin, and I don’t need lessons on Hinduism from you.”

Eventually, her landslide was spurred by a consolidation of inclusive votes comprising Muslims, Dalits, tribespeople and a traditionally secular constituency of urban and rural Hindus led by women voters.

While the BJP lost its solitary seat in Trivandrum in Kerala, Chief Minister Peenarayi Vijayan said: “They opened their account here. We have closed it. There’s no room for the BJP in Kerala.”

But the BJP has held its majority in Assam, the state from where the controversial citizenship laws sought their inspiration. In the 128-seat house, the BJP alliance scored 77, leaving the Congress coalition stranded at 47 seats.

A Congress spokesman said the party would go through the results with a fine comb and strive to correct the mistakes.

In the Union Territory of Pondicherry, a regional coalition including the BJP was likely to consolidate its position against the Congress. The Congress indeed has a handful of errors to correct. A weakened and dented prime minister could tempt it to ponder over a serious opposition unity that Mamata Banerjee has been calling for.