One thing was missing from all the analyses: the people

No not ten Mamata had only two factors going for her
news Analysis Friday, May 20, 2016 - 13:18

Making post-result analyses of elections can be great fun. With the advantage of hindsight, all you need to do is Google up a bit, and speak to ten people. And, you can easily land up with vacuous, click-bait lists such as: Ten reasons why Mamata made a comeback, 13 facts about Mamata's landslide victory, Six things you should know about the Left debacle in West Bengal, and so on.

Precious few of them would answer the elementary question: why did the majority of the people in West Bengal vote for the Trinamool Congress when most political and electoral factors were apparently, emphasis on apparently, stacked up against her? Of course, some of the lists one spoke of, especially those rooted to the soil, would be correct in their assessment; but most of them are not: those are far removed from ground realities, and also intellectually dishonest.

Such pre-election perceptions (refer to the 'apparent' bit) about the tide being against Mamata Banerjee was more outside West Bengal than in the state, and more in Kolkata than elsewhere in West Bengal. The phenomenon is called disconnect. The disconnect as it were was perpetuated by our favourite punching bags: the media, of course. In West Bengal, media house ABP with its array of news establishments had one believe that the ouster of Mamata was a foregone conclusion: all that needed to be done for the inevitable to happen was for the people to go out and vote.

The media from elsewhere in the country were as clueless about the goings-on. All that they did (including the Kolkata correspondents of so-called national newspapers and channels who have scarcely ever stepped out of the metropolis), was play up to their own readership/audience. What one got in the bargain were images and voices that were curated and constructed to fit into the narrative of the non-Bengal reader/viewer. Barring a handful of reporters (including an ex-colleague of mine) who tried to feel the pulse of the people across the state, most remained the armchair journalists that they are. The result was the big picture, that was faulty by all measures.

And if you were to conflate (most of) the pre-election reportage with the post-election analyses that have appeared in the non-Bengal media, you would find one thing missing from both: the people. The colourful reports in the run up to the elections had been voices of the reporters themselves, many of them para-dropping into the state possibly for the first time, and the condescending analyses that have been published subsequently are simply mumbo-jumbo of the supercilious.

The lopsided and dishonest reportage and analyses aside, the media by and large got it wrong for the same reasons that pollsters often do. They either disregard or are unable to digest the incontrovertible fact that innumerable factors decide one victor and a number of losers at an election, and that on the day that a state goes to the hustings one has no idea of figuring out what's playing on the mind of a particular voter. These intangible factors vary from voter to voter, from booth to booth, and from constituency to constituency. People tend to opt for one candidate or party over another on basis of hope (for Trinamool, for instance), disgust/hatred (against the Left and Congress), or indifference (for/against the BJP). Often, it is a combination of two, or all three.

So, how does one explain the brute majority that Mamata Banerjee and the Trinamool Congress have been able to wrest, apparently, under the adverse political circumstances that were generated by the Saradha scam, the Narada sting operation, the Vivekananda flyover collapse, and the unabated decay of everything noteworthy in the state? In fact, there were only two reasons: both of which have been downplayed to a considerable extent in the lists one talked about.

The first was the marginal benefit that the people outside Kolkata reaped from the slew of populist schemes that were launched by the state government. It was marginal because people did not become affluent overnight; but those were substantial when compared to what the Left Front governments did not do in their 34-year rule, the land reforms of the first Left government notwithstanding. So, the Kanyashree scheme of a Rs 750 monthly stipend to girls from financially marginalised families and the Sabuj Sathi scheme under which cycles were distributed to students, remained in the minds of the people. Mamata handed out a monthly "assistance" of Rs 1,500 to about one lakh unemployed youth in the state under the Yuvashree scheme, and the Khadya Sathi scheme gave rice and wheat at Rs 2 per kg to about seven crore people.

Taken together, these schemes more than neutralised the misgivings that voters had over the Saradha financial scandal, for instance, that had hit ordinary people and their life-long savings the most. But then, people care two hoots about scams and scandals if their own lives improve, even if just marginally. This contention is prima facie borne out by the fact that of six Trinamool leaders who figured in the Narada bribe controversy, five of them won the elections. On top if it, Mamata took it all upon herself. At rallies, the leader with a reasonably clean personal profile exhorted, "I am the candidate for all the 294 seats; vote for me." And, most people did.

The second reason was the so-called jote (meaning, alliance) of the Left Front and Congress. No, it was not just about a ragtag coalition of two political formations that have been at daggers drawn for decades on an end. Hatred runs deep in West Bengal, much deeper than what outsiders can fathom. The Left has its own traditional voters and also those who vote for them as an upshot of the abhorrence that they harbour for the Congress (because of the misery heaped on them by the 1972-77 regime of Siddartha Shankar Ray). The latter would vote for anyone but the Congress.

Likewise, India's grand old party too had its own support base, as well as votes of people who would go anti-Left because they have/had been victims of the reign of terror and crony communism of the CPI(M) and its allies. This abject revulsion is something that people elsewhere will never be able to empathise with. Sitaram Yechury, who has never even fought an election outside Jawaharlal Nehru University, had little clue of the quandary that he was putting the people of West Bengal in. He failed to understand that political expediency is one thing, and realpolitik quite another. Mamata of course knew it well, and made it a point to rub it in at the post-result press conference when she said that the biggest mistake of the Left was to ally with the Congress.

Just these two reasons would suffice; other “reasons” would only serve an academic interest.

The writer (www.write2kill.in) is a Bengaluru-based journalist and researcher.