The Assembly elections in West Bengal , Assam , Kerala , Tamil Nadu and Puducherry are over, the results are out and governments are in place. And there are lessons for the victors, the vanquished and the also-rans.
Calling All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Mamata Banerjee a Bengal tigress as she leads West Bengal for the third time is no exaggeration. An increased steadfastness despite the odds, a rare self-possession when things seemed to fall apart when allies and friends were deserting you, relying on one’s own counsel when at the crossroads, possessing a raw courage combined with perseverance and, above all, being fearless are all characteristics of valour. Ms. Banerjee showed all those traits in abundance, leading from the front.
A case for unity
Among the many lessons, there are two overriding common messages: first, that arrogance and hubris will destroy you whether you are dealing with a virulent virus or dealing with people. Second, humanity must unite to conquer the virus. To build a happy and prosperous nation, politicians and people must come together, rising above caste, creed, gender and blinkered ideologies and pursue inclusive politics.
Governance so far
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was trounced in West Bengal , Tamil Nadu, and Kerala but it registered wins in Assam and Puducherry. It increased its seat tally in West Bengal but seen in the blazing light of Ms. Banerjee’s crushing victory , any claim by the BJP to accomplishments are invisible and immaterial. The entire focus of the world and the media was rightly on West Bengal. Many feared that a win for the BJP here would have emboldened the party leadership to pursue more vigorously its bulldozing methods of majoritarian politics, which was becoming increasingly divisive along ideological and communal lines. Enforcing its own ‘Hindutva’ ideology which is antithetical to the oceanic all-embracing core Hindu philosophy, pursuing a brand of jingoistic narrow nationalism that considered anyone who disagreed as anti-national, exhibiting utter disregard for academic and press freedoms and a contempt for science while wallowing in the glories of our past accomplishments in mythology, diminishing the autonomy of institutions and investigating agencies and using them to intimidate critics and political opponents, and resorting to crude moral policing that coerced people to adhere to its ideology are the factors that led to the gross vulgarisation and degradation of the polity and society which was also scarred by violence and vigilante justice. The real threat to India’s vibrant democracy, its rich variegated culture and diversity were the crude attempts to homogenise it into a depressing monochrome.
In its relentless pursuit of such politics, the party leadership, in its arrogance and hubris and blinded by power, did not realise that it was alienating a large population of its voter base, voters from across non-traditional vote banks who had switched to the BJP over the years after being disillusioned by the venal politics of the Opposition parties, both at the Centre and in the States. The politics of the BJP did not pave the way for an inclusive development model. It failed to recognise that no other model can deliver equitable growth. People eventually tire of politics that is always on the boil and which is not accommodating and reconciliatory. In the end, they want harmony, peace and freedom to pursue their faiths, professions and their individual proclivities with freedom. If there is constant conflict and strife between various sections of society, no business, big or small, will thrive. Considering all these, the Bengal elections in particular were a watershed moment for the party and the country.
Advice for the TMC leader
However, in Ms. Banerjee’s massive victory, there is also a lesson from her defeat — a cautionary tale that should bring her down to earth. The BJP has been steadily breaching her citadel which began during the parliamentary elections in 2019. And she ought to be reminded that she has been no less autocratic than the BJP. She single-handedly put an end to Left rule of over three decades. In the process, Ms. Banerjee welcomed many lumpen elements into the TMC’s fold and the violence continued under her patronage. She was accused of nepotism within the family and favouritism in the party and for rewarding loyalty over honesty or competence. She turned a blind eye to widespread corruption and scams.
Now that she has won the mandate for a third term, she must show maturity and sagacity. She must administer through wide consultations and deliver on her promises. She can be reminded that minority appeasement vote bank politics can boomerang and give rise to a majoritarian backlash. She must not undermine and misuse the institutions and the agencies of the state against her opponents and critics, a charge she often makes against the BJP. The BJP has now won 77 seats in the State which is no mean achievement. The venom and the ugliness of this election must be put behind and Ms. Banerjee must work with the Opposition. If she does not heed the writing on the wall, the BJP is sure to breach the palace gates in the next elections.
In the other States
The same lessons apply to Kerala and Tamil Nadu too, with Pinarayi Vijayan winning a second consecutive term and M.K. Stalin making his debut as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. The past tenures of the Left Democratic Front and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam have not been free of controversies and scandals, high-handedness and strong-arm tactics.
A look at the Assam vote too which, under the BJP, has been riven along communal and ethnic lines and divided on citizenship and registration rules; its citizens have had a harrowing experience. The Bengal defeat will hopefully teach the BJP that laws and rules must unite communities and the nation.
A few last words to the also-rans, especially Rahul Gandhi of the Congress party. He should be aware of what General Douglas MacArthur said: “It is fatal to enter any war without the will to win it.”
Captain G.R. Gopinath is a soldier, farmer and entrepreneur