At least two of West Bengal’s three voting constituencies experienced violence today, police clashing with members of the public who claimed they had been prevented from voting by large groups of men. Despite this, West Bengal boasted having amongst the highest voter turnout in the country, 76.42%, by the end of the second phase of voting.
This article has been updated to reflect the poll numbers for the state with ECI figures as of 10pm Thursday.
As West Bengal moves towards the second phase of elections on April 18, all eyes are fixed on the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the newly emergent opposition, the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP).
With 42 Lok Sabha seats, Bengal ranks among the key states the BJP is concentrating on. The party, which before 2014 was outside the electoral pale, now hopes to substantively increase its tally. Currently, the BJP has two Lok Sabha MPs in the state. With 34 MPs, the TMC is clearly holding the electoral sway, while the Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s tally has crashed to two, and the Congress’s to four.
In 2011, the political ground in Bengal shifted in a major way, when the CPI(M)-led Left Front government, after uninterruptedly ruling Bengal for 34 years, ceded power to the TMC led by Mamata Banerjee.
Since that defining political moment, the TMC has gone from strength to strength. It won a second consecutive assembly term in 2016, increasing its tally of seats from 184 to 211 in a 294-member legislature. The CPI(M), which once ran a powerful political and administrative machinery for over three decades, barely has any visible presence on the ground today. Battling a spate of defections to the ruling TMC, the Congress, too, has been hollowed out.
Emergence of the BJP
However, the most striking recent political transformation is the emergence of BJP as the state’s principal opposition party. The BJP’s political ascension in Bengal coincided with the installation of a Narendra Modi-led NDA government at the Centre in 2014. The party’s vote-share shot up from 6.14% in 2009 to 17.02 in 2014. The BJP is noticeably present across Bengal. While political analysts seem to agree that the BJP’s vote share will increase even more in the 2019 elections, the question of the moment is how many seats the party will get.
BJP president Amit Shah is targeting to win 50% of the seats in Bengal.
Like in 2014, the TMC, in this election too, is locked in a four-cornered contest, with the TMC, Left, Congress and the BJP competing for all the 42 seats.
Main governance issues
Mamata Banerjee came to power in 2011 on the slogan on Maa, Maati, Maanush, which was coined during the mass movement against the Left Front government-sponsored land acquisition in the villages of Singur and Nandigram.
After coming to power, the TMC chief minister has announced a number of welfare schemes, notable among which is Kanyashree, a scheme for empowering girls through education. Banerjee has claimed that her government’s Khadya Sathi scheme of providing rice at Rs 2 is ensuring food security to 90% people in Bengal.
The TMC government however is on the back foot on jobs, with large numbers of educated and uneducated, skilled and non-skilled people moving to other states for jobs.
The BJP is leveraging three emotive issues – the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, National Register Commission and Bangladeshi immigration – to influence voters in Bengal. One of the party’s main charges against Mamata is about her “appeasement politics”. The Muslim voting population, standing at 30%, constitutes a solid support base for the TMC.
Banerjee has been at the forefront of opposing the NRC and the Citizenship Amendment bill. The chief minister has alleged that the bills are aimed at making people stateless refugees. Both NRC and Citizenship Bill however have emerged as key issues in north Bengal, especially in Jalpaiguri, Raiganj and Darjeeling constituencies which will be going to vote on April 18. The region has 20% Hindu refuges and 30% Muslim settlers from Bangladesh.
Some important candidates and constituencies
Among TMC’s film celebrity nominees are Moon Moon Sen in Asansol, Nusrat Jahan in Basirhat and Mimi Chakraborty in Jadavpur constituency. Sen is pitted against BJP cabinet minister Babul Supriyo, currently representing Asansol. Chakraborty is pitted against CPI(M)’s Bikash Bhattacharya and BJP’s Anupam Hazra, who has defected from the TMC.
BJP has put up Rahul Sinha, the party’s national secretary from Kolkata North constituency, while Dilip Ghosh has been fielded from Medinipur. The CPI(M)’s sitting MP Mohammad Salim will contest against Congress’s erstwhile Union minister Priyaranjan Das Munshi’s wife Deepa Das Munshi from the Raiganj constituency.
Mausam Noor, twice elected Congress MP from Malda North constituency and niece of former Congress minister Ghani Khan Chowdhury, is representing this seat as a TMC candidate in this election.
TMC’s former railway minister Dinesh Trivedi who has won the Barrackpore seat twice, is pitted against former TMC and now BJP candidate Arjun Singh at the constituency.
Former IPS officer Bharati Ghosh, once considered close to Mamata Banerjee, who recently defected to BJP, is representing the Ghatal constituency. She is pitted against present TMC MP and film star Dev.
The constituencies going to poll on April 18 are as follows: Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling, Raiganj.