Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP has failed to win a key state in elections held amid ever-increasing Covid-19 cases and deaths.
The BJP targeted West Bengal heavily during campaigning but it was comfortably held by the incumbent, Mamata Banerjee, a fierce Modi critic.
Modi and his home minister made dozens of speeches in West Bengal and were accused of focusing on the polls rather than the pandemic.
Voting was closely watched to see if Modi would be punished by voters for his handling of the Covid crisis.
With almost all the results counted, the Trinamool Congress party (TMC) of Mamata Banerjee has won more than 200 seats in the 294-seat assembly.
The results are set to make Banerjee the leader of West Bengal for a third time. She is India’s only woman chief minister.
Celebrating the win, she said West Bengal had “saved” India with the result, and Covid-19 would be her first priority.
On top of the coronavirus pandemic, some analysts saw the results as showing the limits of the BJP’s rhetoric in states with sizeable Muslim populations.
Victory was tainted for her by the loss of her own seat in Nandigram to a former aide turned BJP defector. She has said she will challenge the result in court but may have to run again to remain chief minister.
West Bengal, home to 90 million people and the city of Kolkata, is one of the few states to have never been ruled by Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP.
Despite the defeat, this vote saw the BJP win nearly 80 seats to become the main opposition party. In the 2016 vote the party won just three seats in the state.
Congratulating Banerjee, Modi tweeted, “From a negligible presence earlier in West Bengal, BJP’s presence has significantly increased.”
As well as the north-eastern states of West Bengal and Assam, there has been voting in the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the South Indian union territory of Puducherry, and local council elections in some parts of Uttar Pradesh and Telangana.
In Tamil Nadu, the main regional opposition party, the DMK, took power. A left-wing coalition retained power in Kerala, while a BJP-led alliance won no seats.