Battleground Bengal

ON the stump in West Bengal on Monday Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the state was ready for a poriborton (change) in the upcoming Assembly elections.

Addressing a rally, the PM said that the enthusiasm and energy exhibited by the crowd was sending a message from Kolkata to Delhi that now Bengal had made up its mind about electing a BJP government to power. In recent months, the saffron party has left no stone unturned to win Bengal, a crucial state that has so far withstood the Hindutva’s all-encompassing appeal across the country. But over the past two years, the party has made deep inroads into the state, making it the number 2 in terms of vote share, which is now at 40 percent. The ruling TMC still retains the number 1 spot. Congress and the Left Front are nowhere near the reckoning. And this looks strange considering the fact that the Left has ruled Bengal consecutively for over two decades.

In 2018 Lok Sabha polls the BJP won 18 seats out of 42, becoming thus a major opposition force in the state. Now its sights are firmly set on the Assembly elections slated in April-May 2019. Though the TMC still retains an edge in popularity in the state, this could change. The BJP has deployed all its resources to turn the tables on the TMC. It has regularly dispatched its top leaders including Amit Shah and JP Nadda in the state. Similarly, the PM Modi has also made visits.

What’s more, the BJP plans to hold as many as 1500 rallies in the state. This will also include rallies by PM, Union Ministers, Chief Ministers of BJP-ruled states, and other top BJP officials. In recent budget, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced funds for an economic corridor in West Bengal and a special package for tea garden workers.

But it won’t be easy to dislodge the TMC helmed by the charismatic Mamata Banerjee. In the 294 seats strong Assembly, the TMC currently holds 222 seats. While the BJP is making all out efforts to get Bengal, the TMC is mounting a formidable resistance to the saffron onslaught. The TMC recently launched an advertisement campaign portraying Banerjee as the “daughter of Bengal”. The slogan, “Bengal wants its own daughter”, was put up on the hoardings across Kolkata to paint the BJP as an outsider.

It remains to be seen how the situation plays out in the state as the elections are held. But it will be a gripping, tough contest. And its outcome will leave a far-reaching impact on the course of politics across the country.

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