The first phase of elections begins in West Bengal Thursday with four constituencies – Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar and Coochbehar – going to polls. While Darjeeling was won by BJP’s Jaswant Singh last time, the other three seats were won by Left Front constituents – CPM in Jalpaiguri, RSP in Alipurduar and Forward Bloc in Cooch Behar.
Mamata Banerjee’s dream of emerging as the third largest national party by winning most of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal depends much on Trinamool Congress wresting some of these seats.
Of these four seats, the most prestigious is undoubtedly Darjeeling, where the BJP-Gorkha Janmukti Morcha candidate, S S Ahluwalia, will find it hard to defend Jaswant Singh’s victory margin of 268,000 in 2009. His nearest rival was CPM’s Jibesh Sarkar who has been replaced by Saman Pathak this time.
Ahluwalia’s biggest threat is TMC’s celebrity candidate Baichung Bhutia. Backed by Mamata’s extraordinary campaign – she has made repeated trips to the hills and plains – the Darjeeling contest has assumed an extremely competitive edge. If the GJM holds sway over the three hill assembly segments, Didi has established a solid base in the four assembly segments in the plains.
But with the BJP striking deals with another regional player — Kamtapur People’s Party and a faction of the Adivasi Vikas Parishad – Mamata should be worried as it has the potential to split TMC votes in the plains.
In Jalpaiguri, the CPM is ahead, at least on paper. It has held the seat for last several terms with a significant superior vote share. In Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar the BJP is likely to emerge as a major force and may upset earlier trends. The Trinamool Congress has made deep inroads in Alipurduar, having effected defections from the RSP. The BJP too has high hopes from its alliance with GJM here and in other North Bengal seats.
In Alipurduar and Cooch Behar, the BJP traditionally has a high vote share which could go up significantly. The GJM and KPP support may add to those gains.