New Delhi: Incumbency was set for a beating in three states on Sunday with Mamata Banerjee emerging star of the day to lead her TMC to triumph in West Bengal for a third consecutive term while the BJP was poised for return in Assam as was the LDF in Kerala, Election Commission trends indicated.
Till evening, only a handful of results had been declared for the four states and one union territory. As votes were counted with strict Covid protocols in place, the trends pointed to a win for Tamil Nadu’s opposition DMK-led alliance over the ruling AIADMK. In Puducherry, the AINRC-led NDA was headed towards power.
The cynosure of the elections, held over March and April as the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic picked up pace to finally ravage large parts of the country, was the high-stakes, acrimonious Trinamool Congress-BJP contest in West Bengal that had dominated headlines, drawing room conversations and political discourse.
In a victory that had Mamata Banerjee imprinted all over it, the TMC was ahead in 202 of the 292 seats, way over the victory mark of 147, leaving the BJP trailing behind in 81 seats. It was a long way from the three seats in the last elections for the party, which fielded its top leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, but power was still elusive if the trends translated into results.
The Left parties, which once called the state their bastion, and the Congress were decimated and not even a factor in the eight-phase election, marked by images of Banerjee in a wheelchair with a broken leg after she was injured during campaigning.
Though the TMC seemed to have successfully ridden the BJP challenge, it could well be a bitter sweet moment for Banerjee herself with her own election in Nandigram down to the wire. While some channels declared her victory, the Election Commission website showed she was trailing behind her one-time loyalist and now BJP candidate Suvendu Adhikari in Nandigram by about 8,700 votes.
Coming out briefly to address her followers in the evening, she was businesslike and firm, ‘’Covid is our first priority.”
In terms of vote share, the TMC had 48.3 per cent of the votes against the BJP’s 38.7.
BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya declared victory for his rival.
“The TMC won because of Mamata Banerjee. It seems people have chosen Didi. We will introspect what went wrong, whether it was organisational issues, lack of face, insider-outsider debate,” he said, adding that he was shocked to see BJP MPs Babul Supriyo and Locket Chatterjee trailing.
The BJP seemed to have reason to smile in Assam where the ruling NDA was ahead of the Congress-led Grand Alliance with leads in 75 of 126 seats. BJP candidates were leading in 56 seats, while its ally AGP had the edge in 11 and the UPPL in eight.
The Grand Alliance was ahead in 46 seats and its spearhead Congress in 29 of that.
Elated over the initial trends, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said the people had blessed them.
“We can say for sure that the BJP will form government in Assam. We are coming back to power with our partners AGP and UPPL,” Sonowal told reporters.
In southern Kerala, Left-led alliance LDF was poised to retain Kerala, the first time in four decades that the same grouping could form government for the second consecutive time. The two main constituents of the LDF, the CPI(M) and the CPI, were together leading in 73 seats, two over the magic number for power in the 140-member assembly.
“I thank the people of Kerala for reposing faith in an unprecedented manner in the way that the previous LDF government tackled all the challenges that the people have faced and also the pandemic scourge. The government gave a Kerala model to the world on how to handle the pandemic,” CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury said.
As counting progressed, the BJP was ahead in one seat in Kerala, down from the three in the morning, and three in Tamil Nadu.
Neighbouring Tamil Nadu could break the trend of ruling parties returning to power, according to the trends.
While the DMK was ahead in 121 seats, a feather in its president M K Stalin’s cap, and its partner Congress in 16, ruling AIADMK was trailing with leads 80 seats in the 234-member assembly. Victory in 118 will ensure a simple majority.
Both the Dravidian parties went into the election without their stalwarts, J Jayalalithaa for the AIADMK and M Karunanidhi for the DMK.
Tamil Nadu was also the one bright spot for the Congress where the DMK-led opposition alliance, of which it is a part, looked in a position of power to trounce the AIADMK-BJP coalition. In the rest of the states, it was a story of more losses underscoring its electoral insignificance.
Though the Election Commission had banned victory roadshows and vehicle rallies, crowds of jubilant supporters of various parties could be seen celebrating in various places in violation of Covid norms. The drumbeats of victory came in the backdrop of an election which will be remembered for vast, crowded rallies – with most people without proper masks — amid the pandemic.