• Thursday, Aug 11, 2022
  • Last Update : 03:54 pm

With India’s longest ever election over, comes a tight race between BJP and TMC in Bengal

  • Published at 01:53 pm May 2nd, 2021
Voters queue up to cast their ballot during the final phase of West Bengal's state
Voters queue up to cast their ballots during the final phase of West Bengal's state legislative assembly elections, in Kolkata on April 29, 2021 AFP

The polls in West Bengal are being viewed as one of the most significant state elections in India in recent years

For BJP, a victory in Bengal would bring it closer to its ‘one-party’ ambition, for Mamata Banerjee this could be a chance to emerge as a national leader

After over a month of voting – staggered across eight phases and held under the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic – results for the West Bengal Assembly elections will be out on Sunday.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, Trinamool Congress and a combine of the Left parties, the Congress and the Indian Secular Front were in contention for the state’s 294 seats. The majority mark is at 148 seats.

Emboldened by its performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP has made a serious bid for a victory, with top leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, campaigning heavily and encouraging defections from the Trinamool Congress to dislodge Mamata Banerjee and her party, which has ruled the state since 2011.

Building upon a wave of anti-incumbency sentiment against Banerjee’s government, the BJP has projected itself as the only option for the people of Bengal to get out of what the saffron party says is a cycle of corruption and repression by the TMC leadership. Modi and his lieutenants have promised to build a “Sonar Bangla [golden Bengal]” if voted to power.

On the TMC front, Banerjee led the charge, calling the challenge from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party as one between the insiders, that is Bengalis, and the outsiders, which is the largely Hindi-speaking saffron party.

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Despite the Left throwing its weight behind a Muslim cleric, Abbas Siddiqui, the battle of Bengal has been a direct contest between the Trinamool and the BJP. At the epicentre of this fight is Nandigram, where Banerjee is contesting against a former aide, Suvendu Adhikari, who is now in the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The polls in West Bengal are being viewed as one of the most significant state elections in India in recent years.

For Banerjee, a win could be an opportunity to emerge as a national leader, as no other Opposition leader has been able to challenge the popularity of Modi at the Centre so far.

For Modi personally, it is a chance to extend his national domination, expand the Hindutva footprint and dislodge one of his sharpest critics. And for the BJP, the election is a prestige battle, as the party has never won the state. The BJP currently controls around a dozen states, with alliance partners in several others. But a win in Bengal would bring it closer to its “one-nation, one-party ambition”.

India’s longest election despite Covid outbreak

Conducted in eight phases over 34 days, this was India’s longest election in history. Even the country’s entire General Election in 2019 was conducted over only seven phases.

The poll panel claimed that prolonging the election was necessary, given the violence that usually accompanies polls in West Bengal. But the ruling Trinamool Congress has alleged that this was done to undermine its organisational advantage.

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Voting in Trinamool strongholds was staggered across phases, while Bharatiya Janata Party strongholds saw faster voting, giving enough time to its leaders to campaign across the state and traverse the state’s political history.

Modi and Shah themselves spearheaded mammoth election rallies – attended by thousands with little evidence of masks or physical distancing – for six phases of the elections.

Not surprisingly then, the course of the election saw Covid-19 cases explode in the state. Reports suggest that every second person getting tested for Covid-19 is positive in Kolkata.

By April 26, West Bengal had the highest Covid-19 growth rate of any state in India. The rate was 9.5%, measured using a seven-day moving average, as per data from the Government of India.