Elections to the Phase I of West Bengal concluded on 4th April. Polling happened on 18 seats of Jangalmahal spread across 3 districts of Paschim Medinipur (6 seats), Bankura (3 seats) and Purulia (9 seats). Jangalmahal, once the den of Naxalites, witnessed peaceful polling apart from a few stray incidents.
Out of these 18 seats, 10 seats belong to General category and 8 reserved for SC / ST candidates. SC account for 24% and SC 6% of state population. Muslims do not have a major role to play in these seats as their population ranges from 8%-10% in these seats vs 27% state wise.
Since Purulia shares border with Jharkhand, splinter parties of Jharkhand movement JMM, AJSU, JP etc. have a decent presence in at least 6 of these 18 seats where their candidates finished 3rd.
In 2011 Assembly elections, TMC formed an alliance with Congress. It was this region where the Left Front performed slightly better as compared to rest of the Bengal that witnessed Left being wiped out. Jangalmahal has always been regarded as a Left bastion until 2011 because of the good support enjoyed among SC / ST community; saw a meteoric rise of TMC- Congress alliance. In that election the TMC- Congress alliance won in 12 seats (TMC-10, Congress-2) while Left won in 6 seats. [Seat by seat winners have been presented in Table].
During 2014 Lok Sabha Elections, TMC and Congress contested separately. During these elections, unlike the 2011 elections, it was a four cornered fight. It saw the rise of BJP as a major power to reckon with in Bengal. Even though BJP did surprisingly well in rest of Bengal, it was not a big force in large number of constituencies in Jangalmahal. TMC did exceptionally well in those elections that saw them taking a lead in as many as 16 assembly segments whereas Left & Congress could take a lead in only one segment each. [Seat by seat winners have been presented in Table 1]. If Congress and Left would have contested as an alliance then they would be leading in 7 and TMC in 11 seats. Left still retained the maximum votes from the ST community in these elections despite a washout.
|Assembly||Winner 2011 Vidhan Sabha||Assembly Leads 2014 Lok Sabha|
After a drubbing in 2014 LS elections, Left & Congress have formed an alliance to fight the incumbent TMC. Left Front is contesting in 13 and Congress from 5 seats. This is one of the regions where an alliance between Left and Congress could give jitters to the ruling party and it was also evident from the number of rallies that the CM had to organize in this region. Congress got a beating throughout the state in 2014 LS elections with the exception of the districts of Malda, Murshidabad, N. Dinajpur and Purulia in Jangalmahal. Further, going by the voting percentages, it has been reported that overall voting percentages have been close to 84% same as in 2011 elections (earlier was reported as 81%). Hence difficult to draw any conclusions at this stage. Elections could still be decided by the high popularity ratings of Mamata vis a vis Suryakant Mishra.
From 2009 to 2011, this region witnessed widespread violence including Lalgarh Operation. It was one of the poll promises of TMC-Congress alliance to restore peace in that region. According to the some locals, peace has been largely restored in that area and it is one of the major poll promises fulfilled by the government. But even on this front there is slight difference of opinion among the locals.
Several welfare schemes have been initiated by the TMC government including distributing rice at ₹2 per kg, distribution of scholarships and bicycles to the meritorious Adivasi students etc. This could also have a major impact in the voting behavior in this region where poverty is a major challenge.
Several roads have been constructed in Jangalmahal in these 5 years. Government colleges have started in Nayagram and Salboni along with an ITI and some polytechnic colleges. A multi-specialty hospital has also been built in Purulia.
Despite the major changes in Jangalmahal, the alliance between Congress and Left could be detrimental for the ruling party and if seamless vote transfer happens between these two parties, TMC could be in big trouble. BJP can also play spoiler in many seats. There are several other smaller parties like JMM, Jharkhand Party, AJSU etc. having a limited influence in 5-6 seats.
TMC could take a hit in this phase and could face a loss of seats. Possible outcome could be: TMC- 5, Left + Congress Alliance- 7, Too Close to Call – 6.
West Bengal likely to witness a very close contest till the end. Stay tuned for more…..
*Abhishek a keen political observer is an Asst. Professor at XLRI Jamshedpur & he has a Doctorate from IIM Kolkata.