The onus is on Ms. Banerjee to end violence and triumphalism of her supporters
Mamata Banerjee was sworn in as Chief Minister of West Bengal for a third consecutive term on Wednesday, following the resounding victory of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in the Assembly election. The TMC has won 213 seats, compared to 77 won by its principal challenger the BJP. The TMC’s 47.9% vote share is an all time high for any party, and nearly 10 percentage points more than that of the BJP. The Left-Congress alliance drew a blank, another first in the electoral history of the State. The sheen of the TMC’s astounding success has been somewhat dimmed by violence, attributed largely to its cadres, that has claimed at least 14 lives since the counting of votes on Sunday. True, TMC workers have also been killed, but as the ruling party, the onus is on it to end the violence. It is reassuring that Ms. Banerjee has promised after taking oath that ending the violence and controlling the pandemic were her priorities. She must not read this colossal mandate as a public endorsement or even tolerance of the grass-roots ferocity and authoritarianism that have become hallmarks of her party. Ms. Banerjee’s personal responsibility is high considering that people reposed their trust in her despite the high-handedness of local TMC leaders. The burden on her is heavy, and she has a tough act to do in reining in her own party.
As much as the Bengal verdict is in favour of the TMC, it is also against the BJP which did not want to take an organic route to emerge as a natural party of governance in Bengal. Without a party organisation and mass leaders, it engineered defections, tried brazen communal polarisation and misused central agencies, as it went for the jugular. Its bombast and hubris were out of touch with the sensibilities of Bengalis. Its growth from three seats in 2016 to its current tally is impressive. The BJP must now pause and rethink its strategy for the path ahead. Its attempts to give a communal colour to condemnable political violence indicates that the BJP is not open to that. If it wants to be a truly national party, the BJP must be respectful of India’s regional, religious and cultural diversities. The Congress and the CPI(M) that sought to overcome their failure to build a programmatic politics through opportunistic alliances, including with the communal Indian Secular Front, must also now learn that there are no short cuts in politics. With the TMC reigning supreme, and the BJP falling short in understanding the State, the Opposition space can still be fought for. To reclaim relevance, these parties need to replace their current leaders, do some honest soul searching, and build a new politics.