What is at stake for key players in West Bengal polls?

West Bengal Assembly polls: What is at stake for key players?

The Assembly elections in the eastern state are around the corner and the political battle is heating up

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, TMC chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Credit: DH Collage

The battle of West Bengal is heating up as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) tries to wrest power from the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress while trying to rid itself of the ‘outsider’ tag in the state. Banerjee and BJP top leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have exchanged jibes over the past weeks as the parties campaign in the poll-bound state to win voters’ confidence. Meanwhile, the Congress has entered an alliance with ith the CPI-M for the polls.

As the parties fight it out in the state, let us look at what is at stake for the main players.

The BJP: Pulling out all stops

West Bengal is a key state for the BJP as it remains one of the three states in the country (others being Kerala and Telangana) where it is not in power directly or through allies.

The party has put all its senior leaders to work in the state with massive funding being given to online and offline campaigns, showing that these polls are a top priority. It continues to attract TMC leaders in the state before the elections. Big names like Suvendu Adhikari and Mukul Roy have already defected to the saffron party, much to Mamata Banerjee’s disappointment.

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There are back-to-back state polls in the country from 2021-2023 right up to the Parliamentary elections in 2024. To start off the election season with a victory would be a morale booster for the saffron party.

Asish Nandi, a political scientist, has been quoted as saying in a report, that the BJP wants to win West Bengal as it is a state which “nurtured a Hindu nationalist sentiment alongside a socialist or even a Communist bent”.?

Another reason why this election is paramount for the BJP is that a victory would indicate Muslims of Bengal are in favour of Hindu nationalism. The make of West Bengal demographic is such that it is not possible to win elections without the support of Muslim voters.

The TMC: Is Mamata still popular enough?

For the TMC to retain power in the state, it remains to be seen if their leader, Mamata Banerjee, is still popular enough to win the public mandate. Her reputation has been majorly impacted after prominent party leaders deserted her right before the polls.

There is a silver lining there, though. As was expected due to the Saradha Ponzi scheme scam, corruption did not taint the TMC’s image as the top accused in the case — Mukul Roy, Suvendu Adhikari and Sovan Chatterjee — are now BJP’s election managers.

Read | Amit Shah summoned by West Bengal special court in defamation case filed by TMC's Abhishek Banerjee

Banerjee’s government is known for subsidised schemes for all sections of society. Some of her targeted schemes, like a subsidy for the Imams and Muezzins in the state, has been looked at as an attempt to appease minorities. Banerjee realised that such a subsidy made the BJP popular in the state and then launched an honorarium for Hindu priests only in September 2020. Whether or not this will put Hindus in her favour, will be seen in the polls.

The BJP’s defeat in Bengal would give a major boost to Mamata’s political career, who has been in power in the state since 2011. By defeating the BJP in an important election like this one, she could also emerge as the principal face of the Opposition in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

The Congress and CPI-M: Penetrating?the Muslim voter base

The third contender for the government in West Bengal is the CPI(M) and Congress. They are entering a seat-sharing agreement. They are expected to target the Muslim voter base. This alliance is not expected to win the elections, but they may cut into the vote bank of the other two main parties.

The election would be an uphill task for the alliance not only because of their organisation structures and differences regarding the alliance?but also because it was still not clear whether the BJP or the TMC would be the main enemy.?

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Considering the steady decline of both the Left Front and Congress in Bengal, the alliance seemed to be more of a necessity than a strategy. The key challenge for the CPI(M) would be to maintain the status quo with regard to the number of seats (26) they got in the last Assembly elections and the same applies to the Congress (44).

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