Kerala elections polls
Voters stand in the queue to cast their ballots at a polling booth during the Kerala Assembly election, in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday, April 6, 2021. Image Credit: ANI

As the leads in India’s much awaited assembly elections 2021 pour in, it is clear that anti-incumbency has not been as big a factor as expected. According to leads and wins as per the Election Commission of India on Sunday evening, except in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, the current rulers in all the states that went to the polls will remain in power. But, regardless of actual outcomes, what is most important is that the people have won again.

The most keenly contested state was, of course, West Bengal. Here, “Didi” Mamata Banerjee’s All India Trinamool Congress is leading in 212 out of 288, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) coming a distant second with leads in 78 constituencies. Of course, the BJP was nowhere in the picture in the last assembly elections in 2016, with only 3 seats, so it is a huge step up for them. The CPM and Congress have been utterly routed.

It is not the intensity of the campaign, the number or clout of the campaigners, even resources in money and manpower which ensure victory. What really matters is the voters and their will or whim. This is truest in West Bengal, where Mamata Banerjee has pulled off a tremendous win, not only retaining power in her state but improving her margin of victory, in the most closely contested state election in recent times.

Rapport with the people

The result proves that it is not only road shows or media coverage, not slogans of insider vs outsider or narratives of development, not the quality of the candidates or even defections from one party to another, that matter. Of course, they make a difference singly and cumulatively. But what matters in the end is rapport with the people, deliverance of goods and essential services on the ground, and, of course, the quality and charisma of leadership.

Banerjee, the gutsy fighter, who took on even Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has got a thundering mandate from the people. However, she faces a sensational upset in losing from Nandigram to her arch-rival and former protégé Suvendi Adhikari. Such are the ironies of Indian politics.

Let’s look at the other states more closely too. In Assam, the BJP retains a majority in 55 out of 121 constituencies, with the Congress coming second at 32, and Asom Gana Parishad with 11. But the surprise number three is the All India United Democratic Front, ahead in 13, which represents the state’s Muslim population. The people want to give the BJP and its CM, Sarbananda Sonowal, a second chance, but the results are not entirely on expected lines.

The big, if expected shift, in the South, is that the M.K. Stalin’s Dravida Munnetra Kzhagam (DMK), leading in 126, is set to form the next government. But All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kzhagam (AIADMK), ahead in 75, has not fared too badly either. The Congress comes third with leads in 16 seats. The BJP is set to open its account in the state with three seats.

In Kerala, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) led Left Democratic Alliance is leading in 61 seats, with its partner, the Communist Party of India (CPI) ahead in 17. This puts the LDF Alliance in a commanding position with 94 out of in the 140-seat house. The United Democratic Alliance (UDF) has fared more or less as in the last elections, ahead in 44 seats.

Congress at 21 seats may improve its score by 3, ending up bagging 24 seats this time, and its ally the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) is likely to win at 17 seats, down by 4. The BJP is not likely to get any seats. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s retaining his throne is highly significant. He is the first CM to be re-elected since 1977 in the state.

In Puducherry, the BJP and its partner the All India N.R. Congress, are likely to form the government with 4 and 10 seats respectively. Overall, it seems that the BJP electoral machine has hit a few roadblocks. Regional parties continue to thrive. And, unfortunately for India’s oldest party, the Congress remains in a decline-mode.

But this is not the time for either celebrations or regrets as far as assembly elections are concerned. It is, instead, a time for reflection, prayer, even penitence as the Covid-19 pandemic rages all about us, infecting more and more Indians, claiming loved ones in its deadly grip.

Disease, devastation, death — a grisly trinity stalk the land. Mass cremations and burials happen only during wars, disasters, and, as right now, pandemics. Aerial shots of multitudes of body bags, graves, or even more alarming for most, smouldering funeral pyres stoke emotions of extreme alarm and fear.

Tsunami-like second wave

For the political leadership as much as for the rest of us, it is time to take responsibility and expiate for our misjudgement, overconfidence, or ignorance. Let us admit it. We were wrong. Yes, though no expert, I myself was wrong. I did not think that this tsunami-like second wave would engulf the country.

All of us who were lulled into believing that the worst was over must now try to help improve the situation as best as possible and avoid repeating the errors and misjudgements of the past.

When human tragedy unfolds on a scale so massive and devastating that it becomes incomprehensible, we are at a loss to name it, let alone come to terms with it. What ensues is not just pandemonium, but panic. But does this mean that we become melodramatists of apocalypse, rhetoricians of revulsion?

No. It is time to turn away from animosity and anger to more life-sustaining narratives. Human flourishing, our history has shown us, is possible in the most unlikely even adversarial of circumstances.

I still believe that we shall overcome this crisis by helping one another where possible and showing compassion coupled with consideration where we cannot make a direct difference.