By Sanchit Barua
West Bengal, which sends 42 MPs to the Lok Sabha, has managed to attract the limelight during this election season. The intense political rivalry between state’s ruling party Trinamool Congress led by chief minister Mamata Banerjee and the BJP, which has targeted the state to compensate the losses of the Hindi belt, clearly indicates that Mamata Banerjee is facing the heat from the saffron party. On the other hand, the Left and the Congress are fighting hard to retain their relevance in the state’s politics. Trinamool Congress, which came to power in 2011 ending 34 years of Left regime, for the last 8 years, has been able to consolidate every corner in the state. This consolidation hasn’t come peacefully. Due to this, there have been wide allegations of violence against the Trinamool supporters by the opposition supporters. In addition to this, there has been rampant groupism among the Trinamool local leaders and supporters. Although party supremo Mamata Banerjee, Trinamool’s only vote catcher, still remains popular in the state but there has been a rise in the resentment against the Trinamool government mainly due to the increasing lawlessness in the state. Plus, there have been allegations of favouritism and syndicate raj against the Trinamool Congress.
The point to be noted is despite TMC getting a big mandate in the rural body polls held last year — marred by wide violence and allegations of booth rigging against the ruling party by the opposition —Trinamool lost considerable support to the BJP in the tribal belt of the state — called Jungle mahal. BJP, which replaced the Left Front as the main opposition in the state during last year’s state rural body polls, has been on the rise and emerged as a strong challenger against Trinamool. If Mamata Banerjee is the trump card of Trinamool, so is Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the BJP. Mamata is aware of the fact that there is a rise of anger against her government. So, she has successfully directed her attacks on BJP — especially on Modi. In doing so, Mamata herself has helped the Modi factor to become formidable in the state. It is true that formidability of Modi factor in the state will not necessarily deviate the votes towards the BJP — but will play a significant role in the election. Nevertheless, one thing is clear — earlier in the state for the last 8 years there was only one factor — Mamata factor — which would swing the voters — either pro-Mamata or anti-Mamata. Now, in addition to Mamata factor, there is another strong factor — the Modi factor. This is very difficult to judge how these two factors will influence the results of the state — which has made West Bengal politics more interesting.
Pro-Mamata and pro-Modi voters will vote for the Trinamool and BJP respectively. Many are saying that pro-Modi voters mostly will be Left, voters. Yes, a chunk of them will be coming from the Left. But here what many forget to underline is that due to rampant groupism and favouritism in Trinamool, a considerable chunk of party supporters who are disenchanted with the party may vote for BJP. But what about the anti-Mamata and anti-Modi voters? It is expected that a large section of the anti-Mamata votes will go into BJP’s kitty. Similarly, a large section of anti-Modi votes will be TMC’s asset. However, anti-Mamata factor appears to be stronger than the anti-Modi factor, as BJP is relatively a new player in the state. So, in that case, BJP tends to be more beneficial than TMC. However not to forget that there is the Left too, which although is weaker this time, yet is not out of the game. It is also generally assumed that 28 per cent of the Muslim population may support the Trinamool Congress. Yes, they will but not all as there is an anti-incumbency factor too, which may go against the TMC. Majority of them will support TMC but a section — especially Muslim women may vote for the BJP for Modi government’s effort to end Triple Talaq. BJP has fielded two Muslim candidates in the state — imported from Trinamool and CPM — which may help to gain a section of Muslim votes, who are dissatisfied with the TMC. And another section may go with the Left and in a few seats to the Congress too — which is mostly confined to the three Muslim majority districts of the state — Malda, Murshidabad, and Uttar Dinajpur.
CPM led Left Front, which ruled the state for continuous 34 years, has been relegated to the third position in this election. But that doesn’t mean that Left has no significance in deciding the outcome. It definitely has. The point to be noted is Left was able to maintain its vote share in the 2016 assembly polls. However, after the 2016 assembly polls, Left has been declining in the same way it happened after 2014 polls. But in recent months, Left has gained some of its ground due to mass movements directed against the state and central governments. It is true that Left will not get the 30 per cent share it got in 2014 but may get around 15-20 per cent of votes in the state, although it is difficult to predict whether the Left will manage to convert this vote share into any seat. These 10-15 per cent votes are largely expected to go into BJP’s kitty as local Left supporters, unlike central Left leaders sitting in Delhi, are strictly anti-Mamata than anti-Modi. Presently, a chunk of the Left supporters see the Left as too weak and BJP a strong player to defeat TMC as they are more eager to see the downfall of Mamata Banerjee.
This political factor will not only uplift BJP’s vote share but also will increase the saffron party’s chances to gain more seats. Another significant point is if the Left is able to garner near about 20 per cent votes irrespective of any seat victory, it would be able to stay relevant in state’s politics as in a triangular contest 20 per cent is a crucial vote share in deciding the upcoming political scenario of the state. So, the Left is definitely not out of the political game and dismissing them as irrelevant in state politics may not be a wise political decision as the migration of the Left voters towards the BJP is mainly aimed to ensure the defeat of Trinamool Congress and Mamata Banerjee’s national ambitions. Lastly, one crucial scene that emerges is that although Trinamool Congress appears to be in the leading role, BJP is gaining ground in the state considerably — not only at the cost of the Left but also at the cost of TMC. It is true that an increase in votes doesn’t necessarily convert into seats but in this case, they may convert as BJP’s votes are coming from both the Left and TMC. Not to forget, the impact of the polarisation factor — especially along the Bangladesh border due to the now-lapsed Citizenship Amendment Bill — which may politically help the BJP. Actually, Bengal’s outcome will depend on TMC, which is facing the heat of anti-incumbency, and the besieged Left Front’s ability to keep their vote intact by protecting them from the BJP. INAV