Battle for south Bengal: It's Modi wave vs Mamata's organisational muscle

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee | Photo: PTI
With two more phases to go across 17 constituencies in West Bengal before the Lok Sabha polls conclude, the focus has now shifted to the southern part of the state, traditionally considered TMC bastions. The BJP has lately been able to make its presence felt here, albeit in pockets.

With the TMC expected to use its might to retain control in south Bengal, the BJP may put up a tough fight in at least six constituencies – North Kolkata, Dum Dum, Jhargram, Purulia, Bankura and Medinipore. In Jadavpur, the CPI-M is expected to take the TMC head on.

Relying on the charisma of its central leadership headed by Prime Minister Modi, a substantial non-Bengali Hindu vote bank and anti-incumbency factor against the TMC, the BJP in the state is of the view that given a chance to conduct free and fair polls, it will win these constituencies.

“Last time there was a Modi wave but this time it’s a Modi volcano. Our vote share in south Bengal will increase to 35-40 per cent, while in the state, our total vote share is expected to be in the range of 38-40 per cent,” said Chandra Kumar Bose, vice president of the BJP’s Bengal unit, who is competing from South Kolkata on his party’s ticket.

In the 2014 General Elections, the BJP had a 17 per cent vote share in the state.

Bose, who hails from the family of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, is confident that given a chance to conduct free and fair elections, he will win the South Kolkata constituency and the domino effect of a Modi wave will also help bag the neighbouring constituencies of North Kolkata, Dum Dum and Jadavpur.  

Despite Bose’ optimism, political observers such as Sabyasachi Basu Roy Chaudhary note that despite the anti-incumbency factor against the TMC, South Kolkata is a traditional stronghold of TMC supremo and West Bengal chief minister, Mamata Banerjee. What Amethi is for the Congress, South Kolkata is for TMC. Banerjee hasn’t ever lost an election from this constituency.

However, Roy Chaudhary notes that the BJP has been able to make deep inroads among the upper middle-class Bengalis and non-Bengali businessmen here as well as in North Kolkata.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the TMC lost 20.24 per cent vote share from the South Kolkata constituency, to command a 36.95 per cent lead, while the BJP gained 21.33 per cent seats to take its vote share up to 25.28 per cent and finished second. In North Kolkata too, although the TMC won the seat, its vote share dropped to 35.94 per cent while the BJP's rose to 25.88 per cent.

Political observers note that in the metropolis and the surrounding areas, while the BJP has found support from the traditional Bengali families and the Hindi-speaking migrants, the new upper middle class, often termed as ‘new money’ has also come out in support of the BJP.

Thanks to the real estate boom, Bangladeshi immigrant colonies have given way to residential complexes in Jadavpur and Dum Dum, which only economically well-off people can afford. 

“Thus, the demographics in these two constituencies have changed economically. The aspirations of the new money class are not the same as those of the immigrants who have been TMC’s vote bank. The BJP will draw support from this new upper middle class as well,” Roy Chaudhary said. 

In Dum Dum, which the BJP had won in the past, the party stands a fair chance to take the seat owing to the reputation of its candidate, Samik Bhattacharya, who is pitted against the seasoned Saugata Roy from TMC, Jadavpur may spring a surprise.

“I think the CPI-M has a fair chance of bagging the Jadavpur seat. Opinion about both, the TMC and BJP candidates is divided and the CPI-M has been strong there,” Roy Chaudhary added.

Film actress Mimi Chakraborty will be debuting from this constituency on a TMC ticket, while TMC defector Anupam Hazra will be contesting on a BJP ticket. The CPI-M has fielded former Kolkata mayor, Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya from this seat. 

Moving over to semi-urban and rural south Bengal, a tough fight is expected in the tribal belts of Bankura, Jhargram, Purulia and Medinipore, where the BJP has made deep inroads.

“Owing to the Adivasi discontent with the state government, the BJP has been able to garner substantial support in the tribal areas and its victory in these areas depends a lot on these tribals,” political analyst Biswanath Chakraborty said.

Both Chakraborty and the BJP are confident that the latter will win the Jhargram constituency in particular, and the fight will be intense in Purulia.

Although the BJP had a miniscule vote share in the 2014 general elections from these constituencies, it won 644 of the 1,944 gram panchayat seats in Purulia, and 329 of the 806 seats in Jhargram in the 2018 Panchayat elections.

“The TMC hasn’t been able to convince the tribals of its development agenda, while the BJP has gained support. The Left Front, on the other hand, has been a mute spectator,” Chakraborty said.

According to Chakraborty, the TMC’s organisational power, booth management tactics and allegiance of local clubs has made it much stronger than the BJP even when the anti-incumbency factor in constituencies like Tamluk, Kanthi, Ghatal, Medinipur, Barasat and Bashirhat is strong.

“BJP doesn’t have the minimum number of requisite polling agents to oversee the elections, while the TMC has planned it out in advance at the micro level. How can BJP expect to win then,” Chakraborty wondered.

Both the TMC and the BJP has been relying too much on their star campaigners – Mamata Banerjee and Narendra Modi; but TMC leaders are confident that their connect with the people and their ability to solve local grievances will work in their favour.

“TMC wasn’t built in a day and neither was it over-hyped when it was formed. We have been with the people since our formation and after years, people finally gave us the chance to come to power in West Bengal. Can the BJP claim the same,” a TMC leader asked.

Banerjee has also been relying on this factor as evident from her rhetoric on numerous occasions.

As the battle draws close in Bengal, it is Modi’s charisma and Banerjee’s organisational prowess and strength which will decide the verdict.

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