Mamata Banerjee, Left slayer and chief minister for the last 10 years, will know in the next few hours whether West Bengal wants her back. The BJP will know whether seven years of steady investment will pay dividends. Votes are being counted in Bengal and four other states for assembly elections controversially held amid a deadly second wave of coronavirus.

Neck and neck with the BJP since counting began this morning, in the last hour Mamata’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) has pulled ahead leading in 202 seats. The BJP is in hot pursuit, leading in 79 seats. In Kerala, the ruling LDF is ahead in 89 seats, the Congress’ UDF in 45. In Tamil Nadu, the DMK combine has run away to a jumbo lead, ahead in 135 seats, while the AIADMK-BJP coalition is leading in 95. In Assam, team BJP has crossed the halfway mark in leads, ahead in 77 seats; team Congress is ahead in 48.

Bengal voted in eight phases. By the last few phases there was deep concern over crowded election rallies and voting booths full of unmasked people. The BJP government at the Centre has faced angry attacks over the unchecked rise in COVID 19 cases and the country’s health infrastructure coming under siege. It has been accused of prioritising politics over the well-being of people by going ahead with elections and green-flagging events like the Kumbh Mela. Will that impact election results today?

West Bengal (294 seats. To win, 148)

Ten years ago, Mamata Banerjee had stormed Bengal with the promise of “poriborton” or change, ending 34 years of Left rule, the Congress by her side and the BJP irrelevant. In the decade since, the Left has been reduced to a bystander in Bengal politics, with Mamata making further inroads and the birth of the BJP as a power centre in the state. Congress, well, who? 

As she ousted the Left in 2011, Mamata swept 184 of the state’s 294 seats, her then ally the Congress picking up another 42. The Left, which had ruled Bengal without break since 1977, had won 40. The BJP, zero. Could Mamata do any better? Yes. In 2016, she won 211 seats. The Congress won 44, Left  28, BJP 3. 

After the 2014 national election the BJP’s Amit Shah made it clear that he was eyeing West Bengal, one of the very few states untouched by the wave that swept Narendra Modi to power at the Centre that year. The BJP won two  of Bengal’s 42 Lok Sabha seats, polling 17 per cent votes. Block by block, Shah vowed, he would build the BJP and snatch the state from Mamata. 

In the 2019 national election, the BJP gave Mamata a scare, winning 18 seats to the TMC’s 22. With a vote share of 41 per cent, it reckoned it was ready for 2021.   

Exit polls have predicted a slim win for the TMC over the BJP.  A whitewash is forecast for the Left and the Congress, contesting together.  A party or coalition needs to win 148 seats for a majority to form government.

Tamil Nadu (234 seats. To win, 118)

In Tamil Nadu, regional giants AIADMK and DMK slug it out as usual, each armed with a national party and smaller players. Exit polls have called it for the DMK-Congress coalition after 10 years of AIADMK rule. A landslide win is predicted for the MK Stalin-led coalition in the first election since legendary rivals, the AIADMK’s J Jayalalitha and DMK’s M Krunanidhi died. The AIADMK and BJP contested together as partners in the National Democratic Alliance.

In 2016 the AIADMK, led by the iconic Jayalalitha, had broken the state’s run of picking either party every five years. Chief Minister Jayalalitha came back to power but was hospitalised weeks later and died that year of a prolonged illness. In the absence of its matriarch, the AIADMK broke into multiple factions, some of which are contesting separately this time and are expected to cut into the party’s vote.  

The DMK has had an easier transition after the death of its patriarch M Karunanidhi. His son MK Stalin took over the party and has been preparing for years for what could finally be his Chief Minister moment. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, swept by the BJP across most states, the DMK along with its partners had won 38 out of Tamil Nadu’s 39 seats.

Kerala (140 seats. To win, 71)

Kerala has traditionally not voted Left coalition LDF or Congress’ coalition UDF back to power in the last four decades, but Chief Minister Pinnarayi Vijayan will pull off a second straight term, exit polls predict. 

The Left had lost the 2011 assembly election narrowly to the UDF 68-72, but had won by a dignified margin in 2016, bagging 91, to the Congress coalition’s 47. Kerala has 140 assembly seats and a party or alliance needs 71 to form government.   

The BJP’s Mission Kerala has been far less successful than its Mission Bengal, with the party winning 1 assembly seat in 2016 and none in the parliamentary election in 2019. Exit polls are not bullish on a significant improvement.

Assam (126 seats. To win, 64)

The BJP, a fringe player for many years in Congress stronghold Assam, had won the northeastern state for the first time in 2016, The state, say exit polls, wants to retain the party. The BJP-led NDA had won 86 of Assam’s 126 seats last time. It needs to win 64 today to form government again. 

The BJP’s partners in Assam are the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), the United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL) and the Gana Suraksha Party (GSP),

On the other side is a “grand alliance” of eight parties – ,the Congress, AIUDF, Bodoland Peoples’ Front (BPF), CPI(M), CPI, CPI(ML) Liberation, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Anchalik Gana Morcha (AGM).

Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal’s report card is seen to be good, but the BJP has not said that he would be Chief Minister again if the party returns to power. It’s a nod to the powerful Himanta Biswa Sarma, who the BJP imported from the Congress months before the 2016 assembly elections and who is the party’s chief strategist in the north east. 

Puducherry (33 seats – 30 elected, 3 nominated. To win, 16)

Exit polls have predicted a win for the BJP-led coalition, which has projected as its face the popular N Rangaswamy of the All India NR Congress. Weeks before the election, the Congress government in the state collapsed after six MLAs of the ruling coalition resigned ahead of a trust vote.