Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress has retained power in West Bengal with a spectacular win of 200-plus seats in the state election, while the BJP created history in Assam by becoming the only non-Congress government to win consecutive terms.
Religious polarisation was something that the West Bengal had managed to keep at bay in its post-partition political history, but such practices steadily and firmly took root in India as both the BJP and Trinamool Congress indulged in it.
Banerjee wooed the Hindus by chanting shlokas (Sanskrit verses) and reiterating her Brahmin roots, while at the same time keeping the scare of the National Register of Citizens alive in Muslims to convey that only she can protect them.
Meanwhile, the BJP has been vocal about implementing the Citizenship Amendment Act, a cause of concern for the Muslims, especially in Assam.
Till the filing of this report, Banerjee's Trinamool Congress was leading in 213 of Bengal's 294 seats, and in Assam, the BJP was leading in 75 of the 126 seats, far ahead of its nearest rival Congress, which campaigned hard to reclaim its one-time bastion.
Though Indian media outlets earlier reported about Mamata Banerjee's victory in the Nandigram seat, Anandabazar Patrika reported in the evening that BJP's Suvendhu Adhikari has actually won the constituency.
Some Indian newspapers had reported that Mamata defeated her former aide Suvendhu by a margin of 1,200 seats. After fixing a server glitch, the Election Commission later announced that Suvendhu won by 1,622 votes. When Anandabazar contacted Suvendhu, he also confirmed it.
The politics of identity
Identity politics started to take root in India from 2006 and onwards when land acquisition by the then Left Front government was seen as an attempt to hurt the farmers – mostly Muslims – in parts of East Midnapore and South 24-Parganas.
When Trinamool Congress came to power, they began to woo other communities as well, like the Matuas and Hindu migrants from Bangladesh. The BJP too promised to implement the Citizenship (Amendment) Act if it is voted to power with the Matuas in mind.
Identity politics has been at the forefront of many of Mamata Banerjee's development schemes in the last 10 years, including the numerous boards that she formed for residents of Darjeeling hills, the Gorkhas, Lepchas and others, according to a report by The Telegraph.
Never before did the West Bengal electorate go to vote keeping in mind the religious identity. Like in other parts of North India, the BJP and its whisper campaign of "Hindu khatre mein hai" has now become a part of the politics in Bengal too.
'Mamata vs Modi' rhetoric
The BJP took "Mamata vs Modi" rhetoric a bit too far, but in the end, not only did she manage to trump the prime minister, she also remained the only woman chief minister in India.
To understand the enormity of Banerjee's audacious victory, it should be taken into account that the country's Election Commission ordered a never-ending eight-phase election which seemed designed to help the BJP, media reports say.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah was the election strategist for the BJP and had virtually opened offices of the central BJP in Kolkata. Two five-star hotels were commandeered and the entire IT cell under Amit Malviya moved base to Kolkata.
The BJP office was opened to Trinamool defectors (more than 40) with office-bearers including Shah providing a personal welcome to all comers. Even BJP leaders talk in hushed tones of the lavish supply of funds made available to Kailash Vijayvargiya, Shah's trusted lieutenant in the elections.
Modi held a record number of public meetings (20) and so did Shah (50). BJP Chief JP Nadda held 40. Every top BJP leader including Smriti Irani, Piyush Goyal and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath campaigned in West Bengal.
Banerjee was positioned by her election advisor Prashant Kishor as the little guy/didi (means sister in Bangla) or "Bengal ki Beti" against mighty outsiders, and the sub-regionalism worked.
In the early stages of the campaign, Banerjee was attacked and fractured her foot. In what became an indelible image from the campaign, she addressed public meetings across Bengal in a wheelchair - truly the didi in her crumpled blue bordered saree and trusty rubber chappals.
Banerjee took on the BJP's polarisation full on, reciting the "Chandi Path" (one of the most ancient systems of mantra worship of the Divine Mother Goddess in Hindu tradition) on stage with style and visiting temples in every constituency after campaigning.
The BJP ran with its usual campaign template. They did their best to make the Dalits in Bengal feel that they had been discriminated against in welfare measures by leaders like Banerjee in favour of Muslims, who make up 27% of Bengal's population and have a majority presence in the three districts of Murshidabad, Malda and Uttar Dinajpur.
The BJP's war cry was to call Banerjee "Begum," while saying that they would remove the "Muslim veto" in Bengal politics.
The most important takeaway from the polls is that the BJP is not an unstoppable force, and can be defeated by a strong-rooted regional leader. The shock-and-awe Shah tactics only work with a weak opponent.
Moreover, it is now evident that the political pendulum is now swinging away from the BJP. The Central's handling of the second wave of Covid and its tragic oxygen shortage is bound to cost Modi.
The BJP had so far created a self-serving ecosystem that separated governance from election wins. This could now end as voter anger is sweeping BJP-ruled states like Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, reports a number of Indian media.
This election has finally given Modi and Shah a reality check.
The opposition to the BJP is regional as established by the results from Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The return of Pinarayi Vijayan as the chief minister of Kerala, a state that has never re-elected an incumbent, and the win of MK Stalin in Tamil Nadu prove that.
Till the filing of this report, in Tamil Nadu, the DMK was well ahead of the ruling AIADMK – which has an alliance with the BJP. MK Stalin's DMK and its allies were leading in 149 seats and the AIADMK, in 85.
In Kerala, the incumbent LDF is leading in 97 of the 140 seats and seems to be on its way to buck a 40-year tradition if the trend continues. The Congress-led UDF is leading in 42 seats.
In Puducherry, the N Rangaswamy's AINRC-led alliance – of which the BJP is a part – was leading in 13 of the 30 assembly seats, while the Congress was ahead in 8. The Election Commission has banned all victory processions due to the spike in Covid-19 cases.
Voting for these elections took place in March and April this year, just as India started reporting thousands of fresh coronavirus infections every day.
Alongside the Covid spike, leaders of all political parties, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, led political rallies at which large crowds discarded safety rules on masks and social distancing.