The stakes seem to be high for the ruling Trinamool Congress in the upcoming West Bengal panchayat polls, as the party leadership feels that gaining a foothold in national politics after the 2019 Lok Sabha election is incumbent on winning the rural heartland. According to senior TMC leaders, the party's objective to play a major role at the national level can only be successful if it manages to bag the maximum share out of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal. "If we want to win maximum number of seats in Lok Sabha polls, then we have to ensure that we put up a good show in the upcoming rural polls, so that we are ahead of our rivals," said a senior TMC leader. With nearly 40 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state being located in villages and semi-urban areas administered by panchayats, an absolute control of the rural bodies is a must for political parties to have an upper hand on rivals in next year's Lok Sabha polls, feel senior TMC leaders. "Steering the state from 2011, the Mamata Banerjee-led TMC government has established its credentials on the twin foundation of development and diversity. "People will endorse this in the upcoming panchayat elections. Yes, the journey to Delhi originates in the rural heartland of Bengal," Derek O'Brien, TMC parliamentary party leader in Rajya Sabha, told PTI. Brien's views were echoed by his party colleague Sudip Bandyopadhyay, who is of the view that the panchayat polls will be the most important election ahead of Lok Sabha polls. "Panchayat elections resonates the views of the grass-roots and the masses. In villages, people are dependent on their gram panchayats . The activities of elected representatives at panchayats and zilla parishads come as a added benefit for the political parties he or she represents," Bandyopadhyay told PTI. The elections will be held across 48,650 seats in 3,358 gram panchayats, 9,217 seats at 341 panchayat samitis, and 825 seats at 20 zilla parishads. Another senior TMC leader came up with an analogy on how results of panchayat polls directly influence the Lok Sabha election in Bengal. "Our victory in South 24 Parganas and East Midnapore zilla parishads in the 2008 panchayat polls had led to the party winning 19 seats in the 2009 Lok Sabha election. The stellar performance in 2013 panchayat polls, when it won the maximum number of zilla parishads, also led TMC to bag 34 Lok Sabha seats in 2014," he explained. However, he admitted that despite winning so many seats, the party could not have a major role after the 2014 elections, as the BJP managed full majority. "But this time, things will be different from 2014 and TMC will play a defining role after 2019," the TMC leader said. The TMC leadership has time and again emphasised that it will play a major role on the national level, after next year's Lok Sabha polls. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had last month said she would try to unite all the anti-BJP forces to defeat the saffron party in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. The TMC top brass had also met several leaders of various Opposition parties, including UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and TRS chief K C Rao, aiming to cobble up a formidable front against the BJP. Opposition parties cutting across political lines feel that the TMC's urge to prove its mettle in the panchayat elections in order to find firm footing in the Lok Sabha polls next year, has led to unprecedented violence over filing of nominations for the rural polls. The TMC has denied all such accusations. Displeased with the State Election Commission's recent decision to cancel its own order to extend the nomination process by a day, the Calcutta High Court had on April 12 put a stay on the ongoing panchayat election process till further instruction. "Because of their ambition to play a major role and to send out a message that TMC is invincible in Bengal so that they be allowed to lead the anti-BJP front, they are looking to win the panchayat polls without any opposition," state Congress president Adhir Chowdhury said. Senior BJP leader Mukul Roy, who was once number two in the TMC and been instrumental in its performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, feels TMC's wish to be a major national force will never be fulfilled as the BJP will "decimate" the ruling party in Bengal in the next Lok Sabha election. "The people of Bengal are yearning for a change and BJP will bring that change," Roy said. State Panchayat Minister and TMC leader Subrata Mukherjee said the party will win the panchayat polls and that it cannot take the onus of failure to file nominations. "How can we take the onus of opposition not being able to file nominations? We can't provide them with man power to file nominations. The people of Bengal are with TMC. I won't comment any further as the matter is sub judice," Mukherjee added.