LIVE NOW:Watch the Definedge Conference on Market Analysis (DECMA). Join Now
you are here: HomeNewsPolitics

West Bengal polls | Dates, battle lines, key players and issues — A guide to the high-stake contest

Will the BJP juggernaut roll into yet another state? Or will West Bengal opt for a third Trinamool term? The result would be out on May 2.

March 24, 2021 / 04:31 PM IST

West Bengal is arguably the most-watched out among the four states and one union territory going to polls from March 27 onwards. The 294 assembly segments in the state would be contested for over a month - in eight phases.

The outcome would be keenly observed, as a victory for the Centre-ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may allow the Narendra Modi-led regime to march ahead with the contentious farm reform laws and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

With the electoral battle set to begin in Bengal in less than 72 hours, here is your complete guide to the high-stake contest.

Dates to mark

The first phase of polls would be held on March 27, with a total of 30 constituencies to be contested in the state.

Close

The second phase - which would again feature a contest in 30 assembly segments - would be held on April 1.

The third phase, in which 31 constituencies would go to polls, is slated for April 6.

The fourth phase of elections, in 44 seats, would be held on April 10.

The fifth phase of polls in 45 assembly segments is scheduled on April 17.

The sixth round for 43 seats would be held on April 22.

The seventh phase of polls for 35 constituencies is slated for April 26.

The eighth and final round of elections is scheduled for April 29, when the remaining 35 assembly segments would go to the polls.

The Election Commission of India would declare the results on May 2.

Battle lines drawn

While Bengal witnesses a three-way contest, a section of pollsters largely consider the polls as a face-off between the BJP and the Trinamool Congress (TMC).

The third front, also known as the Sanyukt Morcha, is the alliance of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India (CPI), All India Forward Bloc, other Left parties, the Congress, and the Indian Secular Front (ISF).

As per the seat-sharing arrangement, the Left Front will contest on 165 out of 294 assembly seats, Congress in 92 constituencies and the ISF in 37.

The tie-up with ISF, a party recently founded by Furfura Sharif shrine cleric Pirzada Abbas Siddiqui, has drawn attention towards the coalition. His entry is expected to allow the Left-Congress combine to reclaim a section of Muslim votes that have drifted away to the Trinamool.

According to experts, however, Muslims along with other electoral groups would largely vote for the party "that can win the elections".

In the 2019 general elections, a large section of traditional Left voters of the Hindu community switched to the BJP, said Sanjay Kumar, co-director of Lokniti, a research programme at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS).

Voters who are against the Mamata Banerjee-led government will vote for the BJP as they consider it as the "party which can bring the change", he added.

"Whatever the votes which the Congress or Left will get could be attributed to their individual prominent leaders. I would not view those votes as the vote for the party," Kumar told Moneycontrol.

Similarly, he said, the support seen for the third front from the Muslim community - as seen at the Parade Ground rally attended by Siddiqui - may not hold up to the day of polls.

"My own sense is that when they (Muslim voters) would see that the third front is not a challenge to the BJP, they will vote for the Trinamool," Kumar added.

Key players

Mamata Banerjee - The chief minister is arguably the centrifugal point of this election. The TMC is rallying around her, whereas, the BJP has put her on the centre of their political attack. Despite the foot injury she suffered in Nandigram, Mamata has not abandoned the campaign trail. Amid the spree of defections from Trinamool, experts have tagged her as the "one-woman army" of the ruling camp.

Dilip Ghosh - The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-turned-BJP functionary has been instrumental to the party's meteoric rise in the state. After taking over the charge of BJP's Bengal unit chief in 2015, Ghosh has played a vital role in strengthening the party's cadre strength. Under his leadership in the state, the BJP succeeded in winning 18 out of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in 2019.

Suvendu Adhikari - The former most-trusted lieutenant of Mamata Banerjee dealt her with a severe blow by making the saffron switch in last December. In Nandigram - the seat he currently represents - Suvendu is challenged by the chief minister herself. If he succeeds in defeating Mamata, and the BJP clinches a majority, the 50-year-old could emerge as the most probable CM choice for the party.

Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury - The Congress' Lok Sabha leader is also the party's state unit chief in Bengal. He had led the party in 2016 as well, when it succeeded to improve its tally as compared to the previous election. Nearly half of the 44 seats won by the Congress were attributed to Chowdhury - as 14 MLAs of the party were elected from Murshidabad and eight from Malda. Both the districts are considered as his bastions.

Abbas Siddiqui - Few politicians would earn the bargaining power which Siddiqui has done within a short span of his entry into state politics. The Left Front-led alliance has not only accommodated him but has allotted a significant chunk of 37 seats. In his own words, the cleric has claimed that he wants to be the "kingmaker" in Bengal.

Issues that dominate the poll battle

- 'Ashol Poriborton'

The quest for political change in Bengal - which led to the overthrow of the three-decade-old Left rule in 2011 - is not yet complete, the BJP claims. The party has accused Mamata of failing to deliver the change which had propelled her to power a decade ago.

"This is the time for ashol poriborton (real change) in Bengal," Modi said in his first election rally in Kolkata on March 7.

According to Sanjay Kumar of Lokniti-CSDS, the vote that the BJP will receive would not be for Hindutva. The "desire for change" would be the biggest factor if the Trinamool is defeated, he said.

Mamata, however, has countered the BJP's narrative of poriborton, claiming that the change was delivered after she formed the government 10 years ago. Since then, the state has witnessed economic prosperity, the chief minister claimed.

- Development

"Vikas Hobe (development will happen)" is what the prime minister has been reiterating on the campaign trail in Bengal. The party has promised to provide jobs, bring investments and improve the infrastructure if elected to power.

The Trinamool, while releasing its manifesto, countered the allegation of insufficient development by pointing out that the state's revenue - generated through spurt in business activities - has risen from around Rs 25,000 crore to Rs 75,000 crore since the party came to power.

The TMC has also promised a basic guaranteed income of Rs 500 per month to the female head of each household. The government would also create five lakh job opportunities per year, the manifesto claimed.

- CAA-NRC

While the BJP has remained tight-lipped on the National Register of Citizens (NRC) since the protests erupted last year, the party has promised to implement the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) after the elections.

The CAA is expected to improve the BJP's prospects among the Matua community - accounting for 15 percent of the state electorate - members of which had crossed over from neighbouring Bangladesh during the 1971 war.

The implementation of CAA is expected to expedite the grant of citizenship to the Matua community members.

The Trinamool, while supporting citizenship for those who arrived from the neighbouring country decades ago, has staunchly opposed the CAA as the law excludes Muslims and is considered as a precursor to the possible nationwide NRC.

- Religious Polarisation

Mamata has accused the BJP of attempting to divide the electorate on communal lines to reap benefits in the upcoming polls. She has urged the voters to "reject the party of rioters" and uphold the values of communal harmony.

The BJP, however, has levelled a countercharge against Mamata, accusing her of polarising the voters by practicing "vote bank politics".

When her government "obstructed" Durga Puja and Saraswati Puja processions, was it not polarisation, Union Home Minister and BJP leader Amit Shah asked, while speaking to news agency PTI.

The political scenario in Bengal provided a "fertile ground" to the BJP, according to Sabir Ahmed, the national researcher coordinator linked to Social Network for Assistance to People (SNAP).

"The state has a migrant population, and they responded when a party promised them citizenship (through CAA)," he told Moneycontrol.

"And on the other hand, the symbolic appeasement of Mamata Banerjee, like Imam allowance and iftar parties - which did not benefit in improving the conditions of Muslims - ended up providing a fertile ground for the BJP," Ahmed added.
Mohammed Shaikh
Sections