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Modi and party take hit in polls

By ARUNAVA DAS in Kolkata, India | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-05-06 09:32

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi [Photo/Agencies]

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling party were so keen to win elections in a handful of states going to the polls last month that concerns over the coronavirus pandemic were largely swept aside in raucous campaigning.

As India's second wave of infections raced away, Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, this week learned it had failed to take the prized state of West Bengal, and also came up short in the two southern states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

But the party secured a second term in the northeastern state of Assam, and an alliance with regional parties led it to victory in the union territory of Puducherry.

But West Bengal was always the center of attention after campaigning got underway in March for the elections in early April, and the stakes were high for the BJP leadership.

The BJP was keen to dislodge the state's government led by Mamata Banerjee, a strong critic of Modi.

By a rough estimate, 200 charter planes and helicopters were reportedly used to ferry top BJP leaders to election rallies. Modi alone addressed more than a dozen rallies.

But Banerjee's All India Trinamool Congress picked up 213 of the 292 seats in the state's legislature, according to the Election Commission of India. The BJP secured only 77 seats, and two others went to third parties. Modi conceded defeat on social media.

"It's a victory for the soul of India," Amit Mitra, finance minister in Banerjee's government, said after the election results came in on Sunday.

The lead headline in The Telegraph, a newspaper in West Bengal's capital Kolkata, echoed the view as it proclaimed the state's verdict as "An Inclusive Vote against Communalism".

This fight was not Banerjee's alone, said Basu. "Many aggrieved sections such as the agitating farmers in north India, civil rights activists and even like-minded political leaders and workers, who are increasingly feeling threatened by the anti-federal policies of Modi, rallied behind her," Basu said.

Even before the resurgence in COVID-19, Modi's party faced stiff challenges in the state-level elections. Following the disappointing results, Modi stands weakened but faces no threat to his leadership; his term as prime minister is due to end in 2024.

"The BJP started running out of steam as the pandemic spread," political analyst Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay said.

India accounted for nearly half of the COVID-19 cases reported worldwide last week, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday, as the country's novel coronavirus deaths rose by a record 3,780 in the latest 24-hour period.

Agencies contributed to this story.

The writer is a freelance journalist for China Daily.

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