The poll date announcement on Friday has set the stage in Bengal for an exciting end-game to a contest that could end in a photo-finish. Three large blocs are in the running but the gradual post-2016 decimation of the Left Front Congress combine in large parts of Bengal indicates a straight fight between
, which has pulled out all stops to win a state that has voted left and centre since Independence.
TMC has lost three ministers and 14 MLAs — most of them in the last four months — with former state transport minister Suvendu Adhikari being the biggest of BJP’s catches. Rajib Banerjee, Sovan Chatterjee, Sabyasachi Dutta and Sunil Mandal have been the other significant ones.
But Bengal’s party in office since 2011 has insisted that no defections matter as long as CM Mamata Banerjee has a direct line to Bengal’s voters. Mamata, in a move to further reinforce that direct line, has declared that she will contest from
besides her home constituency of Bhowanipore in south Kolkata.
Nandigram, along with Singur in Hooghly, has tremendous symbolism in Bengal politics; the two movements originating from these two places during the LF regime’s last term in office catapulted TMC and Banerjee to a decade in office in Bengal.
Mamata’s return to one of them signifies her willingness to take the battle to the Adhikari clan’s home turf and her party’s going back to its roots, say TMC managers. The party will depend solely on Banerjee’s charisma and her social-welfare schemes and “development work” of the last 10 years to appeal to voters to give it one more term in office.
BJP has multiple faces, comprising TMC defectors as well as the party’s old guard represented by state unit head
and Union minister
. It also has outsized dependence on central heavyweights — PM Modi, Union home minister Amit Shah, party chief J P Nadda and central minder
— and has refrained from projecting a clear CM face, a move that has clicked in states like UP but is yet untested in Bengal.
Several regions have become central to both parties’ plans but the battle may finally be won or lost in
(Birbhum, East and West Burdwan, Hooghly, Howrah, East and West Midnapore, Bankura, Purulia, Nadia, North and South 24-Parganas and Kolkata), which account for 218 seats in the 294-member assembly.
The presence of a significant number of Muslim and Hindi-speaking Hindu voters sharing space with the Bengali middle-class means a complex web of factors — “identity politics” to “development politics” — will be at play.