On May 2nd, the All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) declared victory in the elections for the Legislative Assembly of West Bengal. Three days later, the first TMC MP published Mahua Moitra an op-ed in the The New York Times entitled “I know how to beat Narendra Modi.”
Moitra argued that the TMC’s victory in West Bengal marked a turning point for opposition politics in India. She blamed the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for mismanaging the country’s Covid-19 response, saying Prime Minister Modi could be defeated by a party “that remains true to its grassroots and secular, inclusive ideology.”
Moitra’s claims should not be dismissed. Commentators described the elections in West Bengal as nothing less than Referendum on the soul of India, with the BJP battling TMC, a regional powerhouse led by the country’s only female prime minister, Mamata Banerjee. The BJP challenged the decade-long tenure of the TMC and poured resources into the state and fail high profile figures such as Modi and Interior Minister Amit Shah to support the campaign. The resounding victory of the TMC in the face of this mobilization – the party has won 213 of 292 places– speaks to the popularity of Banerjee, an accomplished critic of Modi, known to voters as “Didi” or older sister.
At the same time, it would be a mistake to read too much into the results. The BJP has performed below average in state elections in the past, especially in 2019, and still dominates national politics. The BJP’s electoral strategy was to take advantage of municipal divisions that are particularly pronounced in West Bengal, a formerly Muslim state that was split in two in 1947, decades before the TMC’s breakthrough in 2011. Meanwhile, Banerjee and the TMC have fought eradicating the corruption that plagued left-front governments and an entrenched political culture characterized by violence and voter intimidation.
The TMC remains synonymous with Banerjee, who founded the party in 2011 after separating from the Indian National Congress, the Independence Party and alongside the BJP, one of the country’s two major parties. But their loudest defender and the rising star of the TMC is Moitra. The 46-year-old Moitra, who was elected to the lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha or “House of the People”, in 2019, has developed into a fiery critic of the BJP.