West Bengal and Assam verdict: A study in contrast

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Himanta Biswa Sarma and Sarbananda Sonowal (R) (Image credit: NDTV.com)
Himanta Biswa Sarma and Sarbananda Sonowal (R) (Image credit: NDTV.com)

The message of the recently held elections for Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Kerala, Assam and West Bengal Assemblies is clear: the communal polarisation card has its limit and is now on some occasions even proving counter-productive; and that in this era of personality-centric politics the authority of a central all-India figure is waning and the regional satraps do matter much.

Even in the tiny Union Territory of Puducherry it was the tussle between the Congress led by V Narayanaswamy versus N Rangaswamy of All India N. R. Congress, who too was earlier associated with the Grand Old Party. It is other thing that today he has joined the National Democratic Alliance simply because of the power tussle between the two.

Barring West Bengal, in the rest four places the elections were concluded on April 6. So, like in West Bengal, where the saffron party performed badly in the last four phases, the graph of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has further gone down in all these three states and one Union Territory in the last one month.  The mismanagement in handling corona virus is the most important reason.

Here one need not forgot the rout of the BJP in the five strongest bastions of Ayodhya, Banaras, Mathura, Prayag Raj and Gorakhpur districts in the four-phase rural bodies’ poll in Uttar Pradesh held in the second half of April when the country was in the grip of pandemic. All these places are important religious centres. Not only that, Banaras is the parliamentary constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Gorakhpur is still considered as the citadel of UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath. He had represented this seat in Lok Sabha for more than two decades.

Yet the saffron party could not win even 20 per cent of seats. If the performance was so humiliating in these places one can only imagine the result in the Jat-land of West Uttar Pradesh and stronghold of Samajwadi Party in central and eastern parts of the state.

Even the victory of the BJP in Assam should be analysed in proper perspective as the saffron brigade is here busy giving credit to its poll strategy and the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah.

By this logic one may ask as to why this policy of polarising the society on the communal line did not work in neighbouring West Bengal where too there is a huge Muslim population and the party bigwigs made an intensive campaign—perhaps many times more than Assam.

West Bengal and Assam provide an opportunity to study the contrast. If the BJP could retain power in Assam, it was largely because of the presence of a strong state leadership, especially of Himanta Biswa Sarma, whom the party indirectly projected as the chief ministerial face. The opposition Congress-led Mahajot lacked this advantage.

Similarly, if the BJP failed in West Bengal, it was because it has no regional leader to stand up against Trinamool Congress’ chief ministerial face, Mamata Banerjee.

In Assam the BJP, in the last days, confined itself to the propaganda that if the Mahajot wins it would make Badruddin Ajmal, the leader of All India United Democratic Front, as the chief minister. It is here that the Congress, the main party of the Mahajot, committed a blunder. Had it projected any of its leader as the CM candidate, it would have taken the wind out of the sail of the BJP. Thus, by not doing so the Congress let the field wide open for the saffron brigade to spread its message. Otherwise, the BJP would not have succeeded in wooing away such a large number of Hindu votes towards its side.

The truth is that when the BJP bigwigs started landing in Assam, they were much more jittery than in West Bengal, where they party was more confident. This was the one reason why the party did not utter a word on the Citizenship Amendment Act whereas in West Bengal it gave top priority to the CAA.

Besides, after the death of three-time chief minister Tarun Gogoi due to corona virus on November 23 last, there was no cementing personality left in the party.

The truth is that had the Congress fought Assam in a better way it would have done much better. But it relied only on a handful of visits by Rahul Gandhi or even for that matter Priyanka Gandhi, who once during the campaign, even mixed up with tribal women.

The Congress will have to realise that it is not Narendra Modi or Amit Shah, who ensured victory there. In fact, it was due to the presence of Himanta Biswa Sarma and chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal. Modi and Shah could not ensure victory for the party anywhere, even in West Bengal, where the ground situation was somewhat similar to Assam.

Soroor Ahmed is a senior journalist based in Patna. The views expressed are personal.

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