One of the most striking features of the polls in West Bengal this time has been the resurgence of the BJP, now seen as strong enough to impact possibly a third of the state’s 42 seats in various ways.
The contest has become four-cornered after years of highly polarised last few elections, which have pitched the Left against either the Congress-TMC or the TMC-BJP. The Trinamool Congress and the Congress have separated. The Congress has fielded candidates in all 42 seats, as has the BJP, the latter for the first time. And the CPM-led Left Front is desperate for a turnaround.
Any increase in the BJP’s vote share will affect either the Trinamool Congress or the CPM, depending on the composition of the given constituency. Overall, however, analyst say that the more votes the BJP polls, the higher it will boost the CPM’s prospects.
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An inevitability of multi-cornered contests is smaller margins and vote shares. Analysts say even a 35 per cent share can ensure victory; earlier years have seen a large number of winners polling in the region 40 to 45 per cent. This would be because the BJP is expected to garner much of the “floating vote” as well as those disillusioned with the CPM, the Trinamool Congress and the Congress .
The contest in Darjeeling, for example, has never been as unpredictable as this time. The four players are the BJP backed by the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha, the Trinamool Congress, the Congress and a powerful independent. In 2009, the BJP’s Jaswant Singh won by 2.68 lakh votes. “The contest this time is several times sharper,” acknowledges Binode Sharma the GJM’s Kurseong unit chief. “We will win with a narrower margin, with the TMC making a strong bid.” Narendra Modi wooed Gorkhas with, “Your dream is my dream”, but many voters in the plains have been charmed by the TMC’s Baichung Bhutia.
In Alipurduar in North Bengal, the BJP had a vote share of 22 per cent in 2009 and the Left Front a winner’s share of 41 per cent, with the Congress getting 29 per cent. This time the BJP is better placed in alliance with the GJM and a faction of Adivasis, but the TMC too has made deep inroads, having won over a large number of former Left leaders. If the TMC and BJP cut into each other’s vote, the Left gets the edge with the Congress considered a nonentity.
In Raiganj, where Deepa Das Munsi (Cong) is the sitting MP, the TMC candidate is her brother-in-law who is expected to win a share of the Muslim vote, while the BJP is set to win a large share of the Hindu vote. The CPM’s Md Selim is believed to hold the edge.
Barasat can throw up a possible upset with the BJP’s P C Sorcar charming voters and anti-incumbency against sitting Trinamool Congress MP Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar. Left-backed nominee Dr Mortaza Hossain too is very popular, but Gouranga Saha, a veteran Forward Bloc worker, says: “One should not be surprised if a large number of disgruntled Left supporters actually vote for the BJP’s magician candidate.”
Other seats where the BJP has introduced uncertainty include Dum Dum, Barasat, Basirhat, Asansol, Joynagar, Mathurapur, Jalpaiguri, Krishnanagar, Ranaghat, Bolpur, Birbhum, Ranaghat, Sreerampore and Hooghly. Sreerampore’s BJP candidate, Chandan Mitra, asserts: “The contest is between the Trinamool Congress and the BJP in most seats. It is not between the Trinamool Congress and the Left, or between the Trinamool and the Congress.”
Workers at the grassroots in many constituencies also hint at “unofficial alliances” between the Congress and the CPM, or the CPM and the BJP. Mamata Banerjee has already been alleging a BJP-CPM-Congress “syndicate”. And her attack has been focused more and more on the BJP, betraying her growing concern. The resurgence may not translate into many seats for the BJP but it will certainly give rise to new equations in 2016.