MUMBAI, India – State elections in India have offered a “fresh lease of life” to the country’s multi-party system, according to a leading Catholic commentator.
India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) suffered defeat in West Bengal, the largest state to go to the polls this week, despite strong efforts by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and the territory of Puducherry also held elections this weekend, with the northeastern state of Assam being the only one to back the ruling party.
“The recently concluded election results have in more ways than one given a fresh lease of life to multi-party democratic traditions of India. This is all the more significant against the all-out efforts of the ruling dispensation to relegate all other political parties to the margins thereby hoping to build a formidable political force in the country,” said Father Babu Joseph, the former spokesperson for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI).
West Bengal is India’s fourth most populous state, with over 91 million people. The All India Trinamool Congress – a West Bengal-based party – gained three seats to hold an overwhelming majority in the state legislature. In Kerala, the local party Left Democratic Front also held onto power. Another local party, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, took power in Tamil Nadu, and the regional All India N R Congress is leading the polls in Puducherry.
Joseph said the results of the state elections means no political party “can take the wisdom of the common man for granted, however much a party is capable of mobilizing and deploying resources to hoodwink him.”
“Additionally, the results are also an indication of the possible direction Indian politics may assume in the near future where the regional parties once again are gaining ground posing a challenge to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hegemony at the national level. This changing trend I believe augurs well for the future of the country in which regional aspirations are given space and respect,” the priest told Crux.
The Hindu nationalist BJP was striving to make gains outside of its northern India heartland, and hoped to to make inroads in both West Bengal and Kerala, both of which have significant non-Hindu minorities.
However, the ruling party suffered from the national government’s poor handling of the COVID-19 crisis, which has overwhelmed the nation’s health system.
“The election results of Bengal and Kerala are notable in the overall political scenario of the country for the reason that the ruling dispensation at the center had invested much time and resources to create a dent in the otherwise adverse political environment,” Joseph said.
“That Kerala has voted the Left Democratic Front back to power is a departure from the long held trend of alternating between two political fronts. This break in tradition was made possible, I think because: 1) The minority votes in Kerala have gone in favor of it; 2) deft handling of natural calamities and the COVID-19 situation; and 3) disbelief in the trumped charges against the Chief Minister,” he added, referring to accusations that Kerala’s head of government Pinarayi Vijayan was involved in a gold smuggling plot.
The priest also said the fact the state of West Bengal chose to stick with its political leaders was “a clear sign that the BJP strategy of social polarization for political benefit has come to a dead end.”
“It’s a blessing in disguise for the country and its politics because continued reliance on social polarization for narrow political ends has been drawing our country down the road of social discord. But the wise voters of Bengal have chosen to reject divisive politics is a sign of hope for democracy and social amity in India,” he told Crux.
Archbishop Thomas D’Souza Archbishop of Calcutta – based in West Bengal’s capital, Kolkata – said he was pleased with the election results.
“We are all very happy, [West Bengal’s Chief Minister] Mamata Banerjee fought to the end, facing all odds against her, she worked hard and ensured that the goal was achieved. We are very happy that Didi is back,” he told Crux.
[Didi means “older sister” in many Indian languages, and is often used as a term of respect.]
“Mamata Banerjee is a person of the people, she has travelled the length of the state. She knows the needs of the people, and she is a friend of the poor. I am sure that she will continue with the many schemes she has done for the poor, and she will reform a few existing ones, and also introduce new ones. She is a grassroots person, a person on the ground and I am sure that she will take the state ahead in many ways,” the archbishop said.
D’Souza knows the chief minister well, and says she is “simple and straightforward…and hardworking.”
“Her house where she resides, near Kalighat – close of Mother Teresa’s Nrimal house [a home of the dying] – is as simple as when she became chief minister. Simplicity in her lifestyle, she projects that, and Mamata Banerjee a person of compassion and a great admirer and lover of Mother Teresa and a friend of us all,” he said.