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Mamata’s Modi dividend

Calcutta, May 16: Narendra Modi swept much of India but in one corner of the country he may have helped someone else sweep to victory: Mamata Banerjee.

Mamata has fought off the nearly nation-wide Modi wave by notching a tally of 34 out of 42, bettering even her 2009 record and reducing her main enemy, the Left Front, to a rump power with only two seats.

Trinamul’s headline-grabbing success, scored in the face of the combined force of anti-incumbency and the BJP sweep, and the Left’s obliteration could have happened only through a consolidation of the anti-Modi vote behind Mamata.

Sources close to her said she had a plan that led her to launch her campaign from Brigade on January 30 by announcing “danga-r mukh chai na (we don’t need the face of riots)”.

As the campaign progressed, she intensified her anti-Modi pitch even as the rallies by her Gujarat counterpart were drawing huge crowds, who cheered him every time he mocked Mamata.

“Now it seems that Modi’s anti-Mamata pitch helped her win a significant section of our voters while we kept thinking that the BJP’s rise in the state would cost Trinamul,” said a CPM state committee member.

The fact that Modi engaged in a war of words with her worked to Mamata’s advantage as it helped her communicate to the voters that she was the only credible anti-BJP force even as the Left and the Congress campaigned that she had a “covert understanding” with the BJP. The Left losing over 10 percentage points in its vote share shows the line had no takers. Such a sharp erosion can be interpreted as another signal that Mamata has replaced the Left as the main anti-Modi force in Bengal.

“She successfully consolidated the around 28 per cent minority voters and a section of secular Hindu votes with her anti-Modi stand and so the BJP surge did not affect her,” said a social scientist.

For the first time in any election in Bengal, the BJP polled 17 per cent votes, a spike of over 10 per cent from its 2009 show, and two seats, but it has not cost Mamata. With this, the BJP is now the third largest force in terms of vote share in Bengal, though the Congress won four seats with less than 10 per cent of the votes.

Although Opposition parties tried to rake up issues like the Saradha scam, anomalies in teacher recruitment and rise in atrocities against women during the three years of the Mamata government, today’s results prove their failure in creating an anti-incumbency mood.

A comparison of Trinamul’s vote share this election with the 2011 Assembly polls reveals that the party’s support base has almost remained intact, at around 39 per cent. In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, Trinamul had bagged a little over 31 per cent.

Mamata has also made a big-bang entry into north Bengal by wresting four seats from the Left. Although her nominee from Raiganj, Satya Ranjan, the brother of ailing Congress leader Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, has come third in the contest, the result is bound to please Mamata as Deepa, her bete noire and Priya Ranjan’s wife, has lost to CPM's Mohammad Salim.

The vote share of the Left has dropped steadily from 43 per cent in 2009 to a little over 29.6 per cent this time.

“CPM hariye gechhe Bangla theke. Ato kutsha kore ki holo (The CPM has been wiped out in Bengal. What did it gain from its vilification campaign)?” Mamata asked.

The mood at 30B Harish Chatterjee Street was celebratory, but the chief minister presented a deadpan face.

Sources close to her said she was in no mood to rejoice as the BJP’s sweep across the country had scuttled her plan to play kingmaker in Delhi.

Mamata had set two goals for her party for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections: first, bag as many seats as possible in Bengal and emerge as the third largest party in the country; second, play a decisive role in government formation.

Although she contained her national ambitions after Anna Hazare left her in the lurch by staying away from a proposed joint rally at the Ramlila Grounds in Delhi, she was still hoping for a fractured Lok Sabha mandate so she could play a role in Delhi.

First mission accomplished, but Delhi has remained out of reach.

“There are genuine concerns for us. The CBI has taken up the Saradha case and it can be used to embarrass us,” said a Trinamul insider.

The leader said the party also faced the discomfiting prospect of a Modi government delivering on BJP president Rajnath Singh’s support for Mamata’s demand for a three-year moratorium on payment of interest and repayment of principal on past loans.

“If the Centre acts as Rajnath-ji had promised, it will no longer be possible to attack the Centre,” he said.

Although these concerns are justified, Mamata is unlikely to face a major political challenge in the near future from within the state with today’s results dramatically altering the political landscape.

Not only does the slide in the Left’s support base continue, the Congress remains a marginal player restricted to north Bengal. And by the time the 2016 Assembly polls come round, the Modi wave would have run itself out.


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