While all eyes are set on the contest that will see its winner on May 23, the fight between BJP and TMC is not just about the 42 Lok Sabha seats but goes beyond.
Unprecedented violence, brutal clashes and a bitter war of words involving top leaders from the Trinamool Congress as well as the Bharatiya Janata Party ensured that no other state gets the attention that West Bengal does this Lok Sabha election. There has been no dearth of clashes between party workers on and before voting days, there has been a free flow of exchange of barbs between leaders, Mamata Banerjee and Narendra Modi included, and divisive tactics were deployed to win this battle for supremacy on 42 crucial Lok Sabha seats in the state. Much like Uttar Pradesh during the 2014 general elections, West Bengal has become the centre of attention this election. Be it violence during Amit Shah’s rally in Kolkata or the vandalisation of 19th-century reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar’s statue, not one of the seven phases of polls in the state went off peacefully.
Almost all exit polls predict a good fight between the BJP and ruling TMC in West Bengal. As per these surveys, the saffron party will become stronger than ever before in the eastern state if trends hold true. A solid tally in the state will help the BJP not only improve its base in the state but potentially cause a major upset in the 2021 Assembly polls. Till now, West Bengal has never had a BJP government in the state.
While News 18’s IPSOS predicted domination by TMC with 36-38 seats, India Today-Axis My India Exit Poll suggests a close fight between both parties with both getting seats in the range of 19-23 each. While both Times Now-VMR and Republic–CVoter predicted a win for Trinamool and 11 seats for the saffron party, the Times Now-VMR survey suggests 28 seats for the ruling party in the state. Republic-Jan Ki Baat exit poll gave 18-26 seats to BJP, with TMC getting13-21 seats.
While all eyes are set on the contest that will see its winner on May 23, the fight between BJP and TMC is not just about the 42 Lok Sabha seats but goes beyond. With Assembly elections slated to be held in 2021, the BJP is now setting its sight on power in the bhandraloks’ state. The BJP does not have many seats in the Assembly currently, but the panchayat polls in 2018 came as a solid morale boost for the party and its cadre.
In the panchayat elections, out of 31,814 seats, while the ruling TMC win over 29,000 seats, it was BJP that won more than 5,000 seats, way ahead of the Left that bagged the third position, after ruling the state for 34 years. The saffron party’s improved performance can be understood from the fact that it won 28 (up from 8) in gram panchayat polls in Singur. In Purulia, BJP had won 644, out of 1,944-gram panchayat polls, while the party won 806 of 329 seats in Jhargram, which was also embarrassing for TMC as it lost 28 seats here.
With evidence of having made inroads into Mamata’s bastion, BJP is now looking to better its performance in the state assembly elections in 2021. Mukul Roy’s switch to BJP from TMC gave the party a boost. Not to forget, there are 125 Assembly constituencies where minorities hold sway. TMC had won 90 seats here in last Assembly polls. With BJP promising to introduce National Register of Citizens (NRC) in West Bengal, voters from these areas may also play an important role for both parties. BJP has constantly maintained that illegal intruders will have to leave the country. On the other hand, TMC is looking at this as a step against minorities.
In the current Assembly, while TMC has 211 seats out of 294, BJP has just 3. It is this sorry figure that the BJP is trying to transform. Seats where exit polls show the BJP making gains could help BJP in its endeavour. Constituencies like Barrackpur, Asansol, Kolkata North, Purulia, Bankura, Bishnupur, Bolpur, Jhargram, Cooch Behar collectively account for a total of 56 Assembly constituencies under them. If post May 23, BJP is able to make inroads in even half of these constituencies, the TMC and Left parties could be left scrambling to save their seats.
These Lok Sabha constituencies may watch a direct contest between BJP and TMC. Clashes were seen during the polling in Asansol, that went to poll during the fourth phase of Lok Sabha election. Here, singer-turned-politician and sitting BJP MP Babul Supriyo is up against TMC candidate and actress Moon Moon Sen. Darjeeling is another seat to watch out for. While BJP’s Jaswant Singh won from the seat in 2009, SS Ahluwalia continued saffron party’s domination in the constituency by winning last time. It was one of the 2 seats that BJP won from the eastern state in 2014. That year he had defeated his nearest rival and veteran footballer Baichung Bhutia by a margin of 1,97,239 cotes or 17.27 percent. This time, BJP has fielded Raju Bista, who is up against TMC’s Amar Singh Rai.
From Barrackpur, BJP has fielded Arjun Singh, who switched over to the party from TMC. He is up against TMC candidate and former Union Minister Dinesh Trivedi, a two-time seating MP from the constituency. As BJP is in power or in joint powers in neighbouring states of Assam, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur among others, it’s winning the West Bengal that will be crucial for the saffron party.