Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Mamata Banerjee cashes in on ‘Lakshmir Bhandar’ and Modi’s shift to Hindutva in West Bengal

BJP’s campaign about the TMC’s “anti-Hindu and pro-Muslim” policies did not help it much. It rather made the voters of the minority community rally behind the TMC
nirban Bhaumik
Last Updated : 06 June 2024, 08:36 IST
Last Updated : 06 June 2024, 08:36 IST

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Kolkata: Sexual harassment of women in Sandeshkhali, rampant corruption, minority appeasement, and attacks on the majority community’s socio-religious institutions -- the Trinamool Congress (TMC) countered all the poll blitzkriegs of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) by just banking on the 'Lakshmir Bhandar'.

Modi’s shift to ‘Hindutva’ in the latter phases of voting also helped Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s party save its minority vote bank from being dented by the CPI(M) and the Congress candidates, particularly in the South Bengal constituencies.

The TMC has won 29 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats from West Bengal, seven more than its 2019 tally. The party’s vote percentage has also gone up from 43.3 per cent in 2019 to 45.87 per cent in 2024.

The BJP, which has emerged as the principal challenger to the TMC, has won 12 seats, six less than its 2019 score in West Bengal. The saffron party’s vote percentage has come down from 40.7 per cent in 2019 to 38.48 per cent in 2024.

The Congress, which had two seats from the state in the last Lok Sabha elections, has won just one this time. The CPI(M) had an electoral understanding with the Congress in West Bengal, but it could not open its account.

Mamata’s heir apparent Abhishek Banerjee, the general secretary of the party, won from his pocket borough Diamond Harbour with a record margin of more than 7,10,930 votes, beating his BJP rival Abhijit Das. Former cricketers, Kirti Azad and Yusuf Pathan, both TMC nominees, won, beating BJP heavyweight Dilip Ghosh in Bardhaman-Durgapur and the West Bengal Congress chief Adhir Choudhury – a staunch critic of the state’s chief minister – in his long-held bastion Baharampur.

The TMC’s firebrand parliamentarian Mahua Moitra, who was expelled from the 17th Lok Sabha in December 2023 for sharing her log-in ID and password for the parliament portal, is set to return to the House, as she won again from Krishnanagar.

Mamata relied on the welfare schemes her government launched after coming to power in 2011. The schemes helped her create her own 'labharthi varg’ or beneficiaries, who helped the TMC blunt the anti-incumbency wave against it.

The most excited among the schemes was ‘Lakshmir Bhandar’, which was launched after the last assembly elections to help women with financial assistance. The monthly payout rate under the scheme was increased just before the parliamentary polls – from Rs 500 to Rs 1,000 for women in the general category and from Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,200 for the women of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes.

The BJP leaders initially mocked the ‘Lakshmir Bhandar’ and other such welfare schemes, criticising the TMC government for trying to cover up its failure in bringing in investments for setting up industries and creating employment opportunities in the state with freebies and dole programmes. But the popularity of such schemes and the TMC’s accusation that the BJP would suspend the programme if elected to power in the state prompted the saffron party to change its tack and promise an ‘Annapurna’s Bhandar’ scheme with a monthly payout at the rate of Rs 3000. The CPI(M) and the Congress’s candidates too avoided criticising the welfare schemes even while harping on corruption and extortion by the TMC leaders.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, himself, had great expectations from West Bengal. He hoped the state would contribute much more than several other states to bring his '400-paar' war cry closer to reality. He, himself, said in media interviews that the BJP would show its best performance in West Bengal. He addressed 22 rallies and a roadshow in the state, where his party’s seats in the last legislative assembly had gone from just three in 2016 to 77 in 2021. So did Union Home Minister Amit Shah and other heavyweights of the BJP.

The TMC, however, harped on its allegation that the BJP-led Union government had.  

With the Enforcement Directorate and the Central Bureau of Investigation probing a number of alleged scams and several TMC leaders and ministers going behind bars over the past few years, the corruption by Mamata’s party was at the core of the BJP’s campaign strategy in West Bengal. But, just before the Lok Sabha elections, the saffron party opened up its door for Abhijit Ganguly, who emerged as an icon of the fight against corruption, particularly the recruitment scams, during his stint as a judge of the Calcutta High Court but resigned just before the polls.

The BJP fielded him as its candidate in the Tamluk Lok Sabha constituency of the state, giving the TMC on a platter an opportunity to claim that he had helped the BJP fabricate the allegations of corruption against it.

After the Calcutta High Court on April 22 ordered the cancellation of the recruitment of 25753 teachers and Group C and Group D employees to the schools across West Bengal, the BJP moved to reap the political dividends out of it and projected it as a corroboration of the allegations about rampant corruption by the Trinamool Congress’s government in the state, particularly in giving jobs. So did the CPI(M). The TMC, however, countered the campaign by the BJP and the CPI(M) by accusing them of taking away the jobs of young people and thus aggravating the problem of unemployment in the state. Banerjee’s government moved the Supreme Court to challenge the order of the High Court and secured a stay order, with the TMC again projecting itself as the saviour of the youngsters whose jobs were at stake.

Sandeshkhali hit the headlines when ED officials raided the residence of the local TMC leader Sheikh Shahjahan in early January in connection with a probe into irregularities in the public distribution system. The team came under attack from a mob. This followed an agitation by local people against illegal land-grabbing by Sheikh Shahjahan and his aides. The women took the lead as the allegations of sexual harassment against the gang surfaced. The BJP moved fast to take the political advantage out of it and picked up Rekha Patra, who had by then come to be known as the face of the protest, as its candidate for Basirhat, the LS constituency that included Sandeshkhali. The BJP also sent delegations of women from Sandeshkhali to different constituencies across the state to campaign against the TMC.

The BJP thought that the allegation that Mamata allowed Sheikh Shahjahan to run his illegal business empire and the reign of atrocities in Sandeshkhali would fit perfectly into its campaign narrative that her party was pursuing a policy of appeasement of the minority community. The saffron party also sought to use the allegation of sexual harassment against him and his aides to erode the large support base the TMC created among the women with its government’s social welfare scheme.

But the BJP’s strategy did not work and the TMC’s Haji Nurul Islam won from Basirhat, beating the BJP’s Rekha Patra by a margin of over 3.33 lakh votes.

Campaigning for the BJP candidates in the constituencies that went to polls in the last few phases, Modi raised his pitch while criticising Mamata for appeasing the Muslims. He even accused the TMC supremo of buckling under pressure from Muslim radicals and making comments against the state’s popular Hindu socio-religious organizations like Ramakrishna Mission and Bharat Sevashram Sangha. She had indeed said in an election rally that some of the monks of the Bharat Sevashram Sangha and the Ramakrishna Mission were getting involved in politics at the behest of the BJP. Modi and the other BJP leaders sought to take advantage of her comment. The prime minister visited the house of Swami Vivekananda, the founder of the Ramakrishna Mission, on the last day of his campaigning in West Bengal. He even meditated on the Vivekananda Rock in Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu.

But the BJP’s campaign about the TMC’s “anti-Hindu and pro-Muslim” policies did not help it much. It rather made the voters of the minority community rally behind the TMC. In the North Bengal constituencies, which went to the polls in the first few phases of voting, the CPI(M) and the Congress could get a significant chunk of the minority community’s votes, making a dent in the TMC’s vote bank and, in the process, helping the BJP’s candidates. For example, in Balurghat, Raiganj, and Malda North constituencies, the Left-Congress candidates secured more votes than the differences between the votes scored by the winning BJP candidates and their TMC rivals. But, in South Bengal constituencies, which went to the polls in the latter phases of voting, the TMC’s minority vote bank remained more or less intact.

Mamata had played a key role in bringing several opposition parties together during the run-up to the parliamentary polls, attended its meetings, and even named the bloc I.N.D.I.A. But she refused to spare more than two of the 42 Lok Sabha seats for the Congress in West Bengal. The TMC decided to go solo in all the constituencies in the state when its offer was rejected by the Congress. The CPI (M), however, entered into an electoral understanding with the Congress in West Bengal.

The TMC supremo often accused the leaders of the Congress and the CPI(M) in West Bengal of colluding with the BJP to beat her party in the state. She, however, at the same time, insisted that her party remained a part of the I.N.D.I.A. at the national level.

Lok Sabha Election 2024 results | Check all constituency results here

Odisha Assembly poll 2024 results| Check constituency results here

Andhra Pradesh Assembly poll 2024 results | Check constituency results here

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Published 06 June 2024, 08:36 IST

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