Can BJP and Narendra Modi win again

She prefers to wear a white sari and her feet are in flip-flops. Mamata Banerjee has retained the image of a street fighter. And she describes herself as a lioness who is not afraid of any fight. The more invincible the opponent appears, the more she goes to extremes. The Prime Minister of West Bengal, to put it somewhat pathetically, has just fought the political battle of her life. And she won.

On the day of triumph, she held up two fingers in a V shape. The Indian state in the east, populated by around 100 million people, will continue to be ruled by Banerjee's regional party, the "All India Triamool Congress". She has inflicted a serious blow on the camp of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. And of course that feeds reflections on whether victory will possibly enable them to undertake even higher tasks. India had not had a prime minister for a long time.

Their adversary Modi, together with Interior Minister Amit Shah, had done everything possible to conquer the opposition stronghold. But the Hindu nationalists did not succeed in doing so, despite all the force with which they went into the election battle. It was only enough for just under 80 of 294 seats, while Banerjee secured a two-thirds majority.

Banerjee overthrew the communists in 2011

Part of the irony of this momentous episode is that Banerjee's triumph was perhaps precisely because Modi was determined to put a national stamp on the race. He made West Bengal a top priority. Suddenly it looked as if the regional princess had to defend her homeland against external forces, which united the people behind Banerjee more than Modi's strategists had expected.

Banerjee has a reputation for bringing down giants, as it did in 2011 when it toppled the communists who had ruled West Bengal for three decades. As a union attorney, she organized strikes in the docks of Calcutta and led women demonstrating against price increases. The Communist Party, it argued at the time, was abusing its power against the poor. And that is why it must fall.

And now? Is this the beginning of a campaign against India's religious rights? Some of Modi's critics hope so. The prime minister is currently not very confident, which is mainly due to the fact that the corona pandemic has gotten so catastrophically out of control and so many people are dying. Criticism is voiced that the prime minister paid too much attention to the election campaign, allowed huge gatherings and did not even intervene against the mega festival Khumb Mela on the Ganges - for fear that he might scare off his religiously oriented followers.

After an accident, she campaigned in a wheelchair

However, experts also make it clear that the Corona crisis alone hardly explains Banerjee's victory. The Modi party lacks a grassroots presence in this state, as the Indians say. And she didn't have enough to oppose the charisma of Banerjee, who is the only woman to rule an Indian state and who presents herself as the beleaguered "daughter of Bengal".

However, she also had to cope with a humiliation: The 66-year-old just barely lost the race in her own constituency, and an ex-confidante who defected to the BJP chased away her seat. A stab in the back, complain Banerjee's supporters. Nevertheless, she can remain Prime Minister. She just has to win a by-election soon, which is considered very likely.

Banerjee does not shy away from attacking Modi head-on, so she has sharpened her profile as a rebel. After an accident in March, she campaigned in a wheelchair, presenting herself as a "wounded lioness" who would fight to the last against the machos from afar, Modi and Shah. Indian election campaigns cannot do without drama, and in this case Banerjee had the better script, one that won her followings from many women.

Her victory could still matter in the longer term if she manages to rally Modi's opponents behind her. But three years will pass before the next national election in India.