The woman in the wheelchair, Mamata Banerjee, single-handedly outpaced the BJP juggernaut to maintain her stranglehold on the key state of West Bengal giving a major shot in the arm for regional forces across the nation. The victory, which has even beaten exit poll predictions, is epoch-making given the fact that it has demolished the halo of invincibility around Narendra Modi-Amit Shah.
Mamata’s decisive win is a game-changer because it has defied BJP's brand of politics, one that aims at an Opposition-free India, a tweak from its original slogan of Congress-mukt Bharat. The defeat comes as a shock to Team Modi because the party had heavily invested in Bengal, right through the campaign. The entire strength of the BJP, including central ministers and government machinery, camped in the State riding roughshod through cities and villages and creating an illusion that a saffron wave would sweep over the State. There was pouring of money and muscle-flexing in all directions with the promise of change. However, Mamata breached every hurdle as she went on to score a double ton.
In regional party politics, the Bengal narrative remains a shining example of strong leadership and a well-knit ground-level connection with the electorate. A woman, battered and bruised, rising to beat political giant-killers stands testimony to her charisma. On the flip side, BJP may be left licking its wounds, but it has the consolation of making major inroads in a State with 76 seats from the 3 seats it held in 2016. The result once again means that the TMC gets a free run since the second-finisher BJP is low on numbers. However, unlike earlier regimes, the opposition will now act as a thorn in the flesh for Mamata.
The Bengal result could have a ripple effect elsewhere, especially in states where regional parties are jostling for their identity and space, including Goa. Local leaders will be emboldened and inspired by this daredevilry, but there would be questions about it being translated into success stories beyond Bengal. TMC's victory is undoubtedly a morale booster for regional groups, but replicating the success and beating the BJP hollow requires upright leadership and smart strategizing. The BJP game plan has been predictable yet effective against Congress, especially because there was a failure of party leadership. Facing regional players could be a different ball game, especially if there is a dominant player like the TMC.
Mamata’s heroic script however doesn’t fit into the Goa mould, because the regional narrative is different here. Regional parties are smaller in size and are bound by their ideologies, each distinctly different from the other. Then there are varying political interests, differences, ambitions and a very sour past of alignments each fragmenting the voter base. Goa doesn’t have an acceptable regional face across all sections either, making it virtually impossible to replicate Mamata’s success story. At best, there could be a mutual electoral understanding between regional forces if there is a common intent to thwart the BJP.