Kolkata: It’s a litmus test for West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool supremo (TMC) Mamata Banerjee this time as she is fighting the toughest battle of her political career with the resurgence of the BJP.
This year Assembly elections will see a direct contest between the ruling Trinamool Congress and the BJP— a battle in which the latter will have nothing to lose but only to gain.
Five years isn’t a very long time but the State BJP has come a long way since the 2016 elections when it could pick up only three of the 294 seats. In 2019, it shocked its adversaries by winning 18 of its 42 Lok Sabha seats.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, BJP has emerged as the direct challenge to Ms Banerjee with a 40% vote share restricting the TMC to about 43%.
The 2019 Lok Sabha election was an eye-opener and served as a precursor to the emerging trend. By winning 18 of the 42 parliamentary seats, the BJP not only announced itself as the main contender for the Bengal crown but also exposed a strong anti-incumbency factor working against the ruling party.
Local issues and the alleged corruption and high-handedness of Trinamool leaders at the grassroots were the crucial factors at work in the Lok Sabha election, rather than national issues or even religious polarisation.
While the BJP hopes that the investment it has made in Bengal — a shrill Hindutva push from its local leaders, coupled with frequent visits from the top brass, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah — will see an unprecedented sweep by the party, the TMC believes the streetfighter in Banerjee will rise to keep the BJP at bay.
TMC poll managers point to how the BJP’s confidence rests on Jangalmahal in the western parts of the state and Coochbehar in the north (where it had secured a strong foothold during the Lok Sabha elections), while almost 200 of the state’s 294 Assembly seats are from nine districts – South 24 Parganas, North 24 Parganas, Murshidabad, Hoogly, Malda, Howrah, East Medinipur, West Medinipur, Burdwan and Nadia.
“The BJP’s strength in these areas is not the same as their strength in other districts,” insisted the TMC poll manager. In the last election, the TMC had won over 150 Assembly seats from these districts alone.
The TMC leaders also make it a point to remind that this is not a Lok Sabha election and that the BJP’s performance in the state in 2019 is not a handy tool to predict its performance in this election.
“Mamata Banerjee was not standing for Prime Minister (in 2019), and it was clear the BJP was winning across the country. If you look at national to state elections, the BJP vote share drops around 10 per cent,” said a senior TMC leader.
A triangular fight, however, is expected if Congress allies with the Left parties, the scenario would probably weaken the TMC’s sway over the consolidated minority vote bank.
Between the Trinamool and the BJP, it is a do-or-die struggle. But the challenge posed by two other political forces contributes an added element of unpredictability—the Left-Congress combine and the newly formed platform of Muslim parties, including the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and the influential Bengali cleric Abbas Siddiqui’s newly formed party, the Indian Secular Front.
These forces may not come across as having any real chance of coming to power. Yet their presence is certain to influence the outcome in a large number of constituencies. They may also be crucial factors to consider in post-election developments.
In the last Assembly election, the Trinamool won 211 seats out of 294 in a largely bipolar contest against a joint resistance from the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front and the Congress.