April , 2021
Bengal rides high on electoral roller coaster
11:55 am



Now with the election beats are echoed from almost every corner of Bengal, the childlike enthusiasm of bagging big tickets and other clandestine moves by the politicians started to make voters’ mood soar. Like in every other elections, the voters are holed up in deep uncertainty whatever being there in the manifestos. The bottom line for the voters didn’t change much though. They do not bother with politics; so long politics doesn’t bother them much.

The Bengal Assembly elections, of late, took a sharp turn this time with the Sanjukta Morcha (a club of the Left, Congress and ISF) came up as a new force. As we spoke of Bengal polls, the battle line was clearly drawn between the incumbent Trinamool Congress and BJP. After winning 18 MP seats for the first time in West Bengal, BJP is surely a force to reckon with. But a late entry of Sanjukta Morcha has made it a tri-corner fight.

As the farmer leader Yogendra Yadav puts in, the BJP’s desperation to win Bengal is no secret. Besides an overarching and all-consuming desire to expand its rule all over India, it has a clear need. The losses that the party has suffered and is likely to suffer in the North, where it has reached saturation, can only be made up from the East or the South. States such as Tamil Nadu and Kerala are still far away for the BJP. So it needs major gains from the East. For a party that is known to throw everything into a routine election, it is not hard to imagine what it might do in an election it is desperate to win.

The BJP knows that it has an outside chance in West Bengal. Its tally of just three seats in the previous assembly election does not indicate where it might stand today. Because its spectacular performance in the Lok Sabha election of 2019 showed that it was only three percentage points behind the TMC. If the Lok Sabha elections were to be translated into Assembly seats, the BJP would have won 126 seats to the TMC’s 152.

The BJP also knows that it is hard for it to replicate this performance. The party always does much worse in the assembly elections in the state than in the Lok Sabha elections. Besides, the party has no leadership face to come anywhere close to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s popularity. It does not have a substantial election issue or a concrete agenda except for anti incumbency chants to offer so far. In other words, it is a situation of ‘so close, yet so far’ for them.

The opinion polls and series of surveys grossly indicate that in Bengal, the ruling All India Trinamool Congress Party could get around 154 of the state’s 294 seats, six more than the majority mark of 147 and down from 211 that the party won in 2016. The BJP, meanwhile, is expected to make major gains and may secure 107 seats – a massive gain from its current tally of three. The Left-Congress-led alliance could get around 33 seats, as per the survey results.

Elections for the West Bengal assembly will be held in eight phases, up from seven last time beginning with polling for 30 seats on 27 March. The second phase of West Bengal's assembly elections has been scheduled for April 1 and will cover 30 constituencies, followed by the third phase on April 6, for 31 seats, the fourth on April 10 for 44 constituencies, the fifth on April 17 for 45 seats, sixth for 43 seats on April 22, seventh phase on April 26 for 36 seats and last and eighth phase on 29 April for 35 seats. The West Bengal Legislative Assembly (Vidhan Sabha) has a total number of 294 seats, of which, 68 seats are reserved for the Scheduled Castes and 16 seats for the Scheduled Tribes. The terms of the legislative Assembly of West Bengal comes to an end on May 18, 2021.

With a high-pitched campaign against the state’s Mamata Banerjee government and the Narendra Modi-led BJP government at the Centre, the third force in the state elections, the alliance between Left parties, the Congress and the Muslim cleric Abbas Siddiqi-led Indian Secular Front (ISF) kicked of its Bengal electoral campaign lately.

The atmosphere was electric and the Brigade Parade Ground, the historic venue in Kolkata that has the reputation of hosting the largest political rallies in Bengal for decades, was nearly full. Leaders of all parties called the alliance as Sanjukta Morcha or the joint front.

“Neither the TMC did anything for generating employment in the state in the past 10 years nor the BJP-led centre brought any investment to Bengal in the past seven years,” said CPI(M) politburo member Md. Salim - one of the most prominent Left leaders in the state.

However, there still appears to be a glitch in this alliance, as ISF's seat-sharing deal with the Congress is yet to be finalised and Siddiqi, while addressing from the dais, sought people's support only for the Left candidates. He separately told journalists at the rally venue that Congress should hurry up finalising the seat-sharing agreement, as time was running out of hand. "I have information that Sonia Gandhi is agreed but some state leaders (of the Congress) are creating obstacles," he told journalists making the situation even more difficult for the alliance. 

The combined vote share of the Left and the Congress stood at a meagre 12% in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, which encouraged the BJP to go for the kill in the 2021 Bengal elections, expecting initially a bipolar contest with the TMC. It appeared from the analysis of the Lok Sabha election results that a majority of the Left’s traditional vote share, especially those in Hindu-dominated areas, voted for the BJP, helping the saffron party mark its record success

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