IT was dusk on May 2 by the time news came that Mamata Banerjee had created history yet again. With a hat-trick of victories, and having secured more than 200 seats for the second time, her party, the All-India Trinamool Congress (TMC), had surpassed all expectations. The enduring image of this election will be of the wheelchair-bound Mamata, a wounded tigress who fought alone against the entire might of the BJP, including the prime minister. Anti-incumbency, allegations of corruption and minority appeasement, sexist taunts…Mamata braved them all, and in the end, her party was the only one left standing, winning 213 of the 292 seats (elections to two seats have been deferred). By bringing the relentless BJP juggernaut to a halt, her status in Bengal has been upgraded from Didi to that of a Durga. Mamata has exposed the claims of the Modi-Shah duo’s reputed invincibility as a mere boast and emerged as the great big hope of opposition forces across the country.
Congratulations poured in almost immediately, and not just from Opposition leaders. Congress president Sonia Gandhi called her up, NCP supremo Sharad Pawar hailed the TMC’s win as a “stupendous victory”, while the Shiv Sena lauded the “Tigress of Bengal”. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was gracious, tweeting his congratulations while defense minister Rajnath Singh sent her “wishes for her next tenure”. It’s a different matter that the camaraderie dissolved soon after, as post-poll violence between TMC and BJP workers resulted in a number of deaths, leading the BJP to boycott Mamata’s swearing-in. West Bengal governor Jagdeep Dhankhar, ever the provocateur, chided the newly sworn-in Mamata and asked her to “rise above partisan interests...script a new governance pattern”.
Nothing, however, can diminish the magnitude of Mamata’s achievement. On May 2, the narrow lane leading up to her residence on 30B Harish Chatterjee Street turned the color of TMC as her ecstatic supporters smeared each other with green gulaal. Some dribbled a football, others broke into a jig as the beats of the party’s rap anthem, ‘Khela hobe’, blared from DJ boxes. Despite a raging pandemic and the threat of lathi-wielding policemen, nothing could keep them away from trying to catch a glimpse of their beloved chief minister.
Mamata emerged duly, draped in her usual simple cotton saree, hair tied in a low bun over the shoulder, and mouth covered with a white mask with the applique of a map of Bengal in the corner. The exhaustion of the past 50 days, as well as a tan, was all too visible on her face. There was also the shadow of her own loss, from Nandigram to erstwhile acolyte Suvendu Adhikari. But more than anything, there was a relief, at having performed even beyond her own expectations, against tremendous odds. Standing on her feet after being confined to a wheelchair for so long, she flashed the V sign for victory, as her grandniece—daughter of nephew Abhishek Banerjee—stood by her side. Visibly emotional and her voice choking at times, Banglaer nije mae (Bengal’s own daughter) declared the TMC’s landslide win as a “victory of the people of Bengal, the victory of the country and the victory of democracy”.
THE SECRET OF DIDI’S SUCCESS
From the very beginning, Mamata had pitched the 2021 electoral contest as a battle to save Maa or the motherland. As an aggressive BJP, pumped up by the 40 per cent vote share it cornered in the 2019 general election, started gnawing at her heels, Mamata upped the narrative of the outsider BJP coming to destroy Bengal’s culture, ethos, and heritage, its history of peaceful coexistence of different communities, castes and classes.
However, even as she stoked provincial sentiment, she didn’t lose sight of the larger picture—putting the brakes on the BJP’s unrestricted expansionism and attempts to concentrate all power at the Centre in defiance of the country’s federal character, be it the call for one-party-one-nation or the CAA and NRC, which betrayed its wider project of setting up a Hindu rashtra.
“Bengal will give people a taste of freedom...free the people of India from the clutches of the BJP by defeating them in the 2021 assembly poll,” she kept exhorting people, reminding them time and again that it had fallen to them to protect Bengal and the country.
Saving the motherland proved an apt counter to the BJP’s aggressive ukhad ke phenk denge narrative or Dilip Ghosh’s dare of ‘Ebar Bangla, Parle Shamla' (Next is Bengal, stop us if you can)’, after the party’s win in Bihar. It helped her paint the BJP as a power-hungry conqueror, determined to acquire power by hook or by crook. “We will not let Bengal be ruled by Gujarat or be turned into a Gujarat” was a constant refrain. Mamata also managed to conjure visions of paan- and gutkha-chewing BJP men taking out processions with maces, tridents, and swords on Ramnavami and Hanuman Jayanti and of anti-Romeo squads and male chauvinist leaders making sexist comments against women, posing a threat to Bengal’s free-thinking, liberalminded ethos. The Hathras gang rape and other incidents of violence in Uttar Pradesh were cited as evidence of what the BJP rule would entail.
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