Phase I (b) is extremely vital for TMC to retain power, given the number of seats and its great performance in 2014 polls, especially considering Phase 1 (a) reports not that encouraging
On 11th April polling happened in 31 seats spread across 3 districts of Paschim Medinipur (13), Bardhaman (13) & Bankura (9). Those who have been following Bengal politics for over a decade and a half must be aware of Keshpur & Garbeta violence during the 2001 assembly elections. Elections happened to these constituencies in a largely peaceful manner this time.
8/31 seats are reserved for the SC/ST category. The Muslim community has a decent presence in 9 seats of Bardhaman district (20.7% of population), in-fact 4 Muslim MLAs represent these 31 constituencies.
This region has traditionally been a stronghold of the Left Front. In 2011 assembly elections, TMC-Congress alliance not only made inroads but also witnessed the Left citadel collapsing under strong anti-incumbency. TMC along with Congress managed to get 21 (TMC-18, Cong-3) seats out of 31.
The Left front could manage to win only 10 seats (CPM-8, CPI-1, DSP-1) including that of Surya Kanta Misra the present CM candidate of Left-Congress alliance. [Seat by seat winners given in Table 1]. The victory margin in 4 seats was <= 2,500 votes, others witnessed relatively easier contests.
Lok Sabha elections saw an unprecedented rise of BJP as a force in this region. As compared to phase 1 (a), BJP did significantly well here. Riding on Modi wave & decline of Left nationally, people even sent a political novice singer turned politician Babul Suprio to the parliament from Asansol. BJP did manage to take a lead in as many as 6 assembly segments and was second only to TMC (23 seats) in terms of leads in assembly segments.
Left Front & Congress getting were wiped out from these seats with Left managing to take a lead in only 2 assembly segments as BJP did also act as a spoiler for Left snatching their upper caste and young voters. Even on these 2 seats Left were leading by a slender margin of less than 500 votes. [Seat by seat winners given in Table 1]
If Congress and Left would have contested together, they would have managed to lead in only 6 assembly segments, gain of 4, snatching 3 from BJP and 1 from TMC. While TMC average vote share on these 31 seats was c.40%, Left + Congress was c.35% and BJP c.22%. Congress is contesting in 8 and Left in 23 seats. BJP and TMC are contesting on all 31 seats.
The major issue in this phase was maintenance of law and order and reduction in violence in the regions of Paschim Medinipur including Keshpur, Garbeta, Salboni etc. Mamata Banerjee seems to have done significant work for this cause.
Industrialization of this region has not picked up significantly under the TMC reign but the inauguration of the 2.4-million tones JSW cement plant in Salboni has managed to cancel out the ill effects of closing down of Hindustan Cables factory in Rupnarayanpur.
On the infrastructure front, TMC has done well in terms of setting up of Kazi Nazrul University in Asansol and construction of roads amidst syndicate charges. The welfare schemes that provide rice at ₹2 per kg or Kanyasree scheme have also gone well with the people here.
In 2014 BJP emerged as a surprise package in Asansol and even in other areas. BJP could lose its vote share due to absence of Modi factor and dominance of local issues.
A lot depends on how much of BJP’s votes get transferred to Left-Congress alliance. BJP could play the role of more than a spoiler in majority seats and could also bag a few seats especially in Asansol region.
Unlike the Phase I (a), here the Muslim votes could be a factor in many constituencies (9) as discussed above.
Manas Bhunia (prominent Congress leader in the region) was initially dead against the tie up with the Left and same is the sentiment being shared by a lot of Congress voters especially from Paschim Medinipur district. So seamless transfer of votes from Congress to Left a big issue here. Though most would agree that this alliance has brought back spunk into the contest.
If 4-5% of BJP’s votes get transferred to the Left + Congress Alliance and Congress is also able to transfer their respective votes, it could affect the ruling TMC badly as gap between 2 alliances was only 5% in 2014 LS polls.
Some some key members from the opposition are also in the fray in this phase including Surya Kanta Mishra, Manas Bhuniya, Gyan Singh Sohanpal & Dilip Ghosh & actor turned politician Soham.
The seat that will be keenly followed by pollsters is going to be Kharagpur Sadar where INC’s Gyan Singh Sohanpal will be up against BJP State President Dilip Ghosh. The key to this seat is held by a non-political person called Sriniwas Naidu or popularly known as Srinu (Telugu don). Whosoever he supports will have a high chance of winning the seat (as per ground feedback backing BJP).
Even Narayangarh seat has also attracted some pollsters where Surya Kanta Mishra is on a sticky wicket especially given the fact that Left trailed in that seat in 2014 LS elections by greater than 25k votes. For BJP, their best hopes lie in the seats of Asansol Dakshin 9high population of Bihar inhabitants) & Kharagpur Sadar.
Rigging is an elementary part of elections in Bengal. The old dirty tricks of Left has been effectively learnt and executed by TMC. There are reports of mass rigging in some booths in Medinapur and Bardhaman. This will also play a role.
TMC 14-18, Left + Congress Alliance 12-14, BJP 0-2
Combined Phase 1 (a) + Phase 1 (b) 49 Seats
TMC 19-23, Left + Congress Alliance 17-19, BJP 0-2, Too close to call 6-8
|Assembly||Winner 2011 Vidhan Sabha||Leading in 2014 Lok Sabha|
|Keshiary (ST)||CPI (M)||TMC|
|Chandrakona (SC)||CPI (M)||TMC|
|Keshpur (SC)||CPI (M)||TMC|
|Jamuria||CPI (M)||CPI (M)|
*Abhishek a keen political observer is an Asst. Professor at XLRI Jamshedpur & he has a Doctorate from IIM Kolkata.