Paksh-Vipaksh: West Bengal

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West Bengal is a state which has people who are very interested in their state’s politics, this is revealed by the massive turnouts that the state elections witness (83% in 2016) which also makes Bengal elections an interesting affair. The last state election was largely one-sided, Mamta Banerjee led Trinamool Congress (TMC) swept the elections bagging184 seats in the 295 membered West Bengal State Legislative Assembly with a huge 44% vote-share despite an alliance between Congress and the Left Front (Communist parties).

Bengal elections this time is already in the news even though the election is at least 4–6 months away. Let us try to understand what has changed this time around which is heating up the political landscape of Bengal.

Let’s begin with the basics, the two main parties contesting is the ruling TMC and not the main opposition by numbers(BJP won only 3 seats in 2016) but the biggest and seemingly the strongest challenger BJP. BJP seems to have very well replaced the Communists and the Congress as the main challenger to the TMC. The Communists who ruled the state for over 3 decades before Mamta Banerjee and the Congress are smaller but not irrelevant players but the fight this time is clearly between BJP and TMC. For the BJP, West Bengal is the last bastion in East India that is yet to fall to them and for the TMC, well it's everything, they are non-existent outside Bengal.

Let’s take a look at both sides one by one. For BJP their arguably best-organized campaign structure is their major strength besides of course the seemingly unwavering popularity of PM Modi. BJP has deputed its most trusted and most successful campaign managers to Bengal, they have divided the state into 5 regions each of which is handled by 2 specialist campaign managers, people who are the top of the party organization in their respective states. The campaign in each region is planned separately according to the demographics of the region. Home Minister Shah and BJP President JP Nadda(whose convoy was attacked recently) are leading the campaign and are already on the ground for an election that is about at least 4 to 6 months away. Irrespective of whether we believe in BJP’s ideology or not we all have a lot to learn from the way they plan and organize their campaigns.

What the BJP lacks is a leader to rival Mamta Banerjee who is undoubtedly the most popular face in the state. Bengal is a state which has somewhat stayed isolated from national politics, in a sense that the ruling parties of the state have for the most part stayed out of the ruling alliances at the center and thus while Modi’s popularity is certainly a plus it is doubtful whether that will be able to compensate for their lack of a state-level mass leader.

Moving on to the TMC, Mamta Banerjee’s popularity is definitely a factor in their favor. Mamta Banerjee spearheaded TMC into power in 2011 defeating the Communists, a victory which came after a long bitterly-fought battle, thus Mamta Banerjee has proven herself to be someone who doesn’t give up easily. What also works in TMC’s favor is that despite BJP winning big in the Loksabha election in states like Jharkhand and Delhi they could not taste success in the state elections, this is something that TMC is banking on as BJP did do pretty well in Bengal in the Loksabha polls of 2019(they won 18 while TMC won 22 seats). TMC has also hired famed political strategist Prashant Kishore to lead their campaign’s backstage activities, although hiring him does not guarantee victory but he is a capable man who has time and again proven his strategical prowess.

What makes Bengal election different from elections in other states is the violence, outside the insurgency-hit states West Bengal is the only state where violence during elections is a regular affair, something that is also somewhat working against the ruling party, TMC is thought to be largely responsible for the violence and in any case, the responsibility of maintaining law and order lies with the ruling party. There are corruption allegations against TMC leaders, anti-incumbency also comes into play as TMC has been in power for almost10 years now and there are certainly many who don’t believe in Mamta’s model of work.

The stiff competition is the reason for the heated campaign and from the looks of it, the heat is only going to rise as we move closer to the election which is expected to be held in April-May 2021. Thus, we can expect the political media space for the next few months to be heavily dominated by the Bengal elections and the fight for the Satta-ki-kursi to only get bitter and even more violent with every passing day.

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