As the noise of election campaigning ended on Tuesday, Coochbehar and Alipurduar seats in North Bengal, which go to the polls on April 11, are set to see a fight between an undercurrent of support for BJP and the apparent supremacy and organisation strength of the Trinamool Congress (TMC). While the BJP expects to bag both seats, the contest is expected to be close — and likely to remain between these two parties.
The first phase is also a contest between West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s development initiative in Coochbehar and Alipurduar, and her extensive campaigning — she held nearly a dozen public meetings in these constituencies — and Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah’s rhetoric on nationalism, the airstrikes and the NRC.
In Coochbehar, both parties will bank on votes of the Rajbonshi community, who constitute nearly 54 per cent of the electorate.
In Alipurduar, TMC is trying to thwart a rising BJP, which is trying to pool in the optherwise antagonistic tribal and Nepali-speaking voters in tea gardens – a significant chunk.
In 2014, the TMC won both Lok Sabha seats, and 34 of the state’s total 42, while the BJP bagged only 2.
The saffron party, however, is looking at a double-digit number this time, BJP state secretary Pratap Banerjee said. “Our party president, Amit Shah, has made it clear that we will win 22-plus seats. We expect (to win) a majority of seats, including the two in the first phase. We want a free and fair election,” he said.
Rabindranath Ghosh, TMC leader from Coochbehar and North Bengal development minister, countered: “People are with Mamata Banerjee. They (BJP) brought in criminals, and people we had discarded, as candidates in the first phase. They have neither a following nor an organisation…. They do not even have (enough) people to sit in the booths.”