War of Attrition: Can Mamata Banejree hold her own against challenge from BJP, Modi

West Bengal Election 2019: Mamata Banerjee is fighting a tough battle against an increasingly belligerent BJP in the state as the party has often accused the West Bengal chief minister of appeasement of Muslims.

Mamata Banerjee is fighting a tough battle against an aggressive BJP under PM Modi and Amit Shah.

West Bengal Election 2019: West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banejree is fighting a tough battle against a range of political adversaries to retain control over the state. Her toughest challenge comes from an aggressive BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah which is trying to capitalise on the resentment among a section of the society against Mamata’s style of functioning. The opposition parties accuse Mamata and her Trinamool of large-scale violence against political opponents.

BJP is fighting this election on the plank of aggressive Hindutva, accusing Mamata of appeasement of the minority Muslim community during her eight year rule. The party is confident of improving its vote share, which has been increasing steadily over the years. It secured 17% popular votes in 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the third highest after ruling Trinamool Congress (39%) and the principal opposition party CPM (29.71%).

What may work in Mamata’s favour

There are several factors that may work in Mamata’s favour and help her win a majority of the state’s 42 Lok Sabha seats. She is still the most popular leader in West Bengal. She had won two consecutive assembly elections in the state in 2011 and 2016. Her party swept off 2014 Lok Sabha elections in the state by winning 34 of total 42 seats. Trinamool bagged over 39% popular votes followed by CPM (29.71%) and BJP (16.84%). Though the BJP could only win 2 seats but its popular vote surged by almost 11% to 17.02%. The Congress surprisingly won 4 Lok Sabha seats but it vote shared dipped below 9.48%.

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In 2016 West Bengal Vidhan Sabha elections, Mamata Banerjee was in fact was able to improve her party’s performance. Trinamool bagged 44.91% popular votes , a gain of nearly 6% and 211 assembly seats, a gain of 27 seats against her party’s performance in 2011.

BJP is well aware that it will not be easy for the party to beat a strong local party like Trinamool on it its home turf. However, the party is banking on the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to improve its tally in the Lok Sabha elections. BJP will try to capitalise on the different voting preference exhibited by the same set of voters for Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha Elections.

Large Muslim Population in West Bengal

According to reports, Muslims constituted 27% of the state population as per 2011 census, the single largest group in the state. Mamata was able to sweep the state in 2011 as Muslim voters en-mass shifted from CPM to Trinamool, ending the CPM’s 34 year long rule in the state.

Mindful of the importance of this large chunk of votes, Mamata Banerjee made several controversial statements and decisions to express her solidarity with Muslim community even at the risk of alienating a section of Hindu votes.

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Mamata’s strong hold over state machinery, state politics

The third factor that goes in Mamata’s favour is her complete control over the party cadre and state machinery in West Bengal. Mamata stood solidly with Kolkata police chief when his residence was about to be raided by CBI officers in connection with Saradha chit fund scam in February this year. Mamata Banerjee sat on a day long fast at Kolkata police commissioner’s residence which was joined by leading opposition leaders like Andhra Pradesh chief minister and TDP Supremo N Chandrababu Naidu and former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav.

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It was unprecedented as Mamata Banerjee did not resort to this kind of tactics when her party leaders, MPs and her cabinet colleagues in West Bengal government were arrested by the CBI in the same probe. It shows the importance that Mamata Banerjee attaches to keep the official state machinery in her favour.

Second, Mamata Banerjee’s party enjoys loyalty of powerful individuals in every district and locality that makes it difficult for opposition parties and candidates to be politically vocal against her government. Opposition parties like BJP and CPM have often complained of being targeted by Trinamool cadre in the state.

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