Lotus bloomed in Assam for the first time as BJP stormed to power, trouncing 15-year-old Congress government on Thursday but two women chief ministers-Mamata Banerjee of West Bengal and J Jayalalithaa of Tamil Nadu-overcame anti-incumbency to register impressive victories.
The Congress’ electoral downslide continued as its scandal-tainted coalition government lost to the Left in Kerala. The party which has lost six state elections since the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, however, picked up a consolation prize of sorts in Puducherry by defeating the regional All India NR Congress (AINRC).
The Left’s poor showing in West Bengal took the shine off its victory in Kerala. Despite stitching up an unprecedented alliance with rival Congress, it was made to bite the dust in the state and reduced to a poor third. Banerjee’s charisma saw her ruling Trinamool Congress notching up a two-thirds majority in a house of 294.
The BJP was the biggest winner of the day as it also picked up its first assembly seat in Kerala and several in West Bengal. A credible local face in the shape of Union minister Sarbananda Sonowal and a tempered Hindutva agenda, together with fears of being swamped by illegal immigrants, proved a successful recipe for the party in Assam.
Banerjee savoured her victory by coming down hard on her rivals. “The BJP is a divisive force. The Congress knows how to lose friends,” she said while talking about how she enjoys good equations with leaders such as her Delhi and Bihar counterparts, Arvind Kejriwal and Nitish Kumar, respectively.
Jayalalitha, the first Tamil Nadu chief minister to be re-elected in three decades, spoke about how “all parties” were against her: “Even though all parties were against me, I believed in God and had associated myself with people,” she said. The BJP’s impressive show will revive a drive to expand its footprint beyond its traditional base in north India, an attempt that was derailed by back-to-back reverses in Delhi and Bihar last year.
The victories are also likely to reinforce BJP president Amit Shah’s image as an election-winner and provide a much-needed morale booster for the party in the run-up to next year’s crucial polls in seven states, including Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. “The country is two-steps closer to creating a Congress-Mukt Bharat,” said Shah in Delhi. “The verdict is a lesson for the Congress for its obstructionist politics in Parliament,” he added.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi acknowledged that the party has to work harder as he accepted the verdict “with humility”. “We will work harder till we win the confidence and trust of people,” Gandhi said in a tweet. Prime Minister Narendra Modi called up Jayalalithaa and Banerjee—the two possible sources of support for key legislation for the NDA government.
“Had a telephone conversation with Jayalalithaa ji and congratulated her on her victory. Also conveyed my best wishes to her” and “Spoken to @MamataOfficial ji & congratulated her on the impressive victory. My best wishes to her as she begins her 2nd term”—Modi wrote in two tweets. Later, he also spoke and congratulated VS Achuthanandan, the CPI (M) veteran in Kerala.