After 2014 there have been very few elections where one has seen a clash of strong personalities. For once the BJP came to power, not only did Narendra Modi become the Prime Minister, he also became the party’s star campaigner. In fact, as S. Prasannarajan, editor, Open magazine, wrote, there has been no local election since 2014. Each election has been fought on the Modi mandate with the PM’s posters adorning each hoarding, larger than life. Yes, there have been some battles where he has had a fight on his hands (such as what happened with Arvind Kejriwal in the last battle for Delhi) but most have been walkovers. However with Mamata Banerjee, the BJP—and PM Modi—have a fight on their hands. And if anyone can match the PM in theatrics and the art of mass connect, it is the TMC leader and current West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
In fact, did the BJP mess up its reaction to Mamata Banerjee’s injuries? Instead of taking her on and calling it fake, if only the PM—or some national leader of standing—had expressed sympathy that would have been the end of this issue. By questioning Mamata they have given her an issue on a platter and also a brand new identity—wheeling in the wounded tigress for the voters. And not one to miss an opportunity, Mamata has played the injuries to the hilt, from the social media outreach from her hospital bed to campaigning on a wheelchair. For, ever since she took on the Left in Singur, Mamata knows all too well how to play the victim card. And so this is an election that is going to be about Mamata vs Modi—yes the issues are there, from CAA, Muslim appeasement, Hindutva, to local governance, but all these have been superseded by the personality cult of the two leaders. Both know how to play the politics of emotion, as a means to distract from the real issues. So, the question really is which of the two can deploy better weapons of mass distraction.
The other states going to the polls lack such a tall leader. In Assam, undoubtedly, CM Sarbananda Sonowal is overshadowed by his No. 2, Himanta Biswa Sarma, but both are from the same party. Tamil Nadu has been missing a personality clash ever since the demise of J. Jayalalithaa and M. Karunanidhi. The DMK’s Stalin did try to play up his personality but in the end his best bet is being his father’s chosen heir. If Sasikala had joined in the electoral fray, then there would have been a personality at play. In Kerala the sitting CM Pinayari Vijayan however has succeeded to an extent in making this election about himself. In fact, some say that perhaps because of his authoritarian ways and strong personality, he is known locally as “Modi in a Mundu”.
In the end, we come back to the age of question—what wins elections? If it’s emotions then we have a full scale drama to watch in West Bengal.