Indian state of West Bengal's firebrand Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, affectionately called 'Didi', scripted history on Sunday by single handedly pulling off a landslide victory in the assembly election, bucking anti-incumbency and staving off a massive challenge from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
Though the Trinamool Congress swept back to power with a resounding majority of well over 210 seats in the 292-member assembly and Mamata secured a third five-year term in office, the 66-year-old lost her own seat in Nandigram to her former protege-turned-BJP's star campaigner Suvendu Adhikari by a thin margin of around 2,000 votes.
The BJP though has made major gains in Bengal, winning some 80 seats. In 2016, the saffron outfit had just three legislators in the state. In fact, it is now the main opposition party in the state as the Left Front, a coalition of Communist parties, has been decimated by the Trinamool Congress. The Left Front ruled Bengal for 34 years -- from 1977 to 2011.
Addressing the media in state capital Kolkata in the evening, Mamata hailed her party's astounding success at the assembly polls as a "victory for Bengal".
"Khela hobe (game) did happen, and we did win. The BJP kept going on and on about double-engine sarkar (government), while I assured you all that I will score a double century. This is Bangla's win... this is Bengal's win... this is your win. This win has saved Bengal, it has saved the culture and tradition of Bengal," she said.
Though Mamata conceded defeat to Adhikari in Nandigram -- the potboiler of the assembly election in Bengal -- the Trinamool supremo said she would challenge the result in a court of law. "Don't worry for Nandigram, for struggle you have to sacrifice something. Let the people of Nandigram give whatever verdict they want, I accept that," she said.
Just an hour before her press meet, Mamata addressed her party workers outside her residence in south Kolkata and urged them not to indulge in any victory celebrations. "Covid is going on. Please follow all Covid protocols and don't put your lives at risk," she said.
Political leaders cutting across party lines, including Prime Minister Modi, took to social media to congratulate the three-time Bengal Chief Minister on her "historic win".
"Congratulations to Mamata Didi for @AITCofficial's win in West Bengal. The Centre (federal government) will continue to extend all possible support to the West Bengal Government to fulfil people’s aspirations and also to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic," Modi tweeted.
Top BJP leader and Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh also congratulated Mamata.
"Congratulations to the Chief Minister of West Bengal, @MamataOfficial Didi on her party’s victory in West Bengal assembly elections. My best wishes to her for her next tenure."
Former Chief Minister of the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh and head of regional Samajwadi Party, Akhilesh Yadav also hailed Mamata's win. "Hearty congratulations to the conscious public, the combative Ms Mamta Banerjee ji and the dedicated leaders and activists of TMC, who defeated the politics of hate of BJP in Bengal!" he tweeted.
In fact, West Bengal witnessed the most high-profile contest in India's recently held state elections. While Mamata harped on being Bengal’s daughter, the BJP asked people to vote for "change and socio-economic development" after nearly 50 years of Communist and Trinamool Congress rule.
"It was BJP's star power versus Trinamool's one-woman army. From Modi to Indian Home Minister Amit Shah, the entire top leadership of BJP campaigned in Bengal. But none failed to unseat Didi. She came back again, this time with a bigger mandate," Prof Suneeta Roy, a political pundit, told UNB over the phone from Kolkata.
Though it was a huge setback for the BJP, particularly the Modi-Shah juggernaut, the country's ruling party managed to retain power in the neighbouring northeastern state of Assam -- defying all odds and defeating the country's main opposition Congress party, which tried its best to reclaim its erstwhile citadel.
"People have blessed us. We can say for sure that the BJP will form government in Assam. We are coming back to power with our partners," Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said.
The BJP also won the assembly election in the Union Territory of Puducherry in southern India, but failed to retain power in the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu, along with its bigger coalition partner AIADMK. In Tamil Nadu, the DMK swept to power in the 243-member assembly after being in the opposition for a decade.
It was also a big disappointment for the BJP as well as the Congress in the southern state of Kerala, where the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government, led by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, won a historic second term for the first time in 40 years. Kerala is known to vote out incumbents every five years.
Elections to the four states and one Union Territory took place in March and April, just as India started witnessing a ferocious second wave of Covid-19. On Sunday too, India registered close to four lakh cases and nearly 3,700 deaths in a span of 24 hours. The country has been reporting over three lakh daily infections for the last 10 days.