No election has cost the nation as much as those in four states and a Union Territory, the results of which came in on Sunday. The cost is not in terms of the money spent on the elections but in terms of the disastrous impact it had on public health. It might be a coincidence that the day the votes were counted came the report that India set a world record for the number of people declared Covid-positive on a single day.
It is indisputable that these elections were one of the primary causes of the sudden surge in Covid cases. Not only that, one reason why the Central government failed in its commitment to fight the coronavirus, beef up oxygen supplies, provide Covid vaccines in time and strengthen hospital facilities was its obsession with retaining Assam and winning the three other states and Puducherry.
In the end, the ruling BJP, especially Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, suffered a body blow in all the states except Assam, where it was able to bounce back to power. However, allowance has to be made for the fact that in the north-eastern state, the Congress did put up a great show, by winning 51 seats against the BJP’s 74. Even the supporters of the BJP would wonder whether it was worth risking so much to win a state like West Bengal.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah created a record of sorts by organising large public rallies in wanton disregard of all the Covid protocols prescribed by the Election Commission. Money flowed into the state like water in the Hooghly when it is in spate and the BJP’s campaign was like the German blitzkrieg during the Second World War. The idea was to create an impression that West Bengal was up for grabs.
Far from that, Mamata Banerjee has returned to power with a large majority with the BJP proving unable to hit three-digit strength in a House of 292. Every attempt was made to polarise the voters in terms of caste and religion. She turned the tables against her opponents by espousing sub-nationalism, while reciting the sacred texts to hammer the point that she was no less a Hindu than Modi & Co.
The politics of defection the BJP encouraged by welcoming as many as 30 MLAs and leaders of the Trinamool Congress found success when its nominee Suvendu Adhikari defeated Banerjee in his own Nandigram constituency. But then she had claimed that she was the candidate in all the constituencies where the party contested!
Tamil Nadu continues as a fortress of Dravidian politics, with national parties playing only a bit role. The Congress has benefited by aligning itself with the victorious DMK. But for not joining hands with the AIADMK, the BJP would have ended up as an also-ran party. The results show that the people have accepted MK Stalin as his father M Karunanidhi’s successor.
One noteworthy aspect is that the AIADMK has not withered away, as many had expected in the absence of the late J Jayalalithaa, but has survived to continue as a force to reckon with and provide constructive opposition to the DMK. Thanks to their alliance with the DMK, the left parties have won a nominal presence in the House, though they have been wiped out in West Bengal.
In southernmost Kerala, it was virtually a wave that brought the Left Democratic Front (LDF) back to power. The victory is essentially that of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who single-handedly campaigned for the ruling combine. His leadership of the state during the Great Flood of 2018 and the fight against Covid-19 paid him handsome dividends. He could rally the support of the minority communities by the perception he created that he alone could stand up to the BJP’s machinations.
The complete rout the BJP suffered is a reflection of the disdain the Keralites have for the BJP brand of politics. It could not retain even Nemam, the constituency it won last time, while Metroman E Sreedharan, touted as the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate, ate the humble pie in Palakkad. In Puducherry, the Congress has only itself to blame for defeat as it was its incompetence to retain its MLAs that created the political crisis leading to President’s rule. The BJP might have won a few seats but it will have to play second fiddle to a local party. At the end of the day, the question still remains: Couldn’t the elections have been held without spreading Covid-19?