The stage is set up for one of the most competitive battles ever fought in Independent India- the poll battle is gearing up in the Eastern state of West Bengal. An incumbent Trinamool Congress (TMC) faces a highly resurgent Bharatiya Janata Party in Bengal. This poll battle will be setting up the tone of future Indian political parties. The two-term Chief Minister Ms. Mamata Banerjee faces an uphill task: to retain the majority in the assembly elections fighting against the most formidable election machinery in the history of India- the BJP. The other stakeholders- the Left-Congress alliance haven’t caught the public attention. The once-mighty Left- after having been vanquished by TMC after a three-decade-long rule is no more formidable. The Congress is not even a shadow of its previous self- having relegated to only a few districts like Malda & Murshidabad. The Trinamool- an offshoot of the Congress-led by its indomitable Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has vehemently opposed the BJP policies at the center. The BJP’s ideologue & the founder of Jan Sangh- Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, hails from the state of Bengal had never found electoral success in the eastern state until the 2019 elections. The 2019 LS elections sprang up a surprise: the BJP% vote share rose to 40% from a meager 16%. It won 18 seats mostly concentrated in North Bengal. It was a massive setback for the ruling TMC, which managed to somehow save its fortress. The Bengal electorate is considered to have gradually changed its political perception. The Congress under Siddharth Shankar Ray was vanquished in 1977. Then it took another 34 years to change the ruling party. 

 

TMC- an offshoot of Congress that took over the reins from Left in 2011 is one of the very few regional parties that have not buckled under the Modi Wave- a phenomenon that has fundamentally changed Indian politics. BJP under the stewardship of Mr. Modi has done electoral wonders: from having won majorities in two successive elections to winning state elections in Tripura and Assam- which never had a significant base for the right-wing nationalistic party. CM Mamata Banerjee has been a feisty street leader whose political career started with Congress having defeated Communist veteran Somnath Chatterjee in the left bastion of Jadavpur in the 1984 LS elections and never looked back. The indomitable politician had won the 2011 and 2016 elections singlehandedly for her party. Her biggest strength is her connection to the grassroots and the mass-leader image.

 

The ruling party has doled out a range of populist schemes- Kanyashree, Swasthya Sathi, etc in its 10-year rule which has created a positive dent in rural Bengal. The ‘Duare Sarkar’ has been considered to be a highly successful communication program by the ruling party ahead of elections. TMC has pitched the Bangla sub-nationalism to counter the aggressive-nationalism of the BJP. The Narada-Saradha chit-fund embezzlement hardly became a hindrance to the TMC landslide in the 2016 elections-  a win mostly attributed to the austerity of the CM. Now, the BJP has gone all the way to wrest Kolkata from the dominant regional force. The TMC has been dented by defections of a slew of its popular leaders ranging from Mr. Mukul Roy (once a number-2 in TMC to the new BJP Vice President) to Mr. Suvendhu Adhikari (one of the most trusted lieutenants of the CM). BJP’s campaign has been vitalized by high-profile visits from the top leaders. There has been fierce competition over the appropriation of the legacies of greatest Bengali icons from Gurudev Rabindranath Thakur to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. The leading opposition BJP which currently has only three seats in the 294-seater assembly is raking up the issue of violence by TMC workers and claims to have lost many of its workers to the political violence orchestrated by the ruling party. 

 

The 2018 Panchayat polls and subsequent LS elections in 2019 had been marred by violence. The opposition party has also attacked the incumbent party upon dynastic policies, financial embezzlement by a powerful Syndicate consisting of the ruling party workers, and mismanagement of COVID-19 & Cyclone Amphan. The state became a battleground for the federal standoff between the state and the central government in wake of central enforcement agencies investigating state officials in West Bengal. The election has also become communally surcharged since the passage of CAA- a phenomenon which has surged for the first time since the Partition in 1947. The porous borders with Bangladesh have led to large-scale illegal immigration from Bangladesh- an issue raked up by the opposition BJP. Economic issues have also found a place in the narrative: while the ruling TMC emphasizes on the developmental schemes have reached out to the most citizens, BJP brought out the economic mismanagement that has led to sluggish industrialization since the Independence. 

 

The elections have acquired unique dynamics: the caste equations have also popped up with the BJP building a plethora of strategies to acquire votes. North Bengal consisting of Darjeeling Hills, Cooch Behar has become a BJP stronghold post-2019 elections. The Gorkhaland issue might also be an important determinant in electoral issues in North Bengal. South Bengal- a stronghold of Trinamool might be a tough nut to crack for the opposition BJP. CM Mamata Banarjee in an unprecedented move decided to contest from Nandigram- the hotbed of farmer protests: which had propelled TMC to power in 2011. This move is seen to have a strategically underpinning- to directly take on her previous lieutenant and now BJP leader Mr. Adhikari. The Bangla culture is going to be another important determinant in the election matrix- the elections will see how will a strong regional player clutch on its ground on a strong regional narrative against an upbeat nationalistic party. Regional politics will be up for the biggest ever test in the 2021 elections. A victory for BJP which hasn’t been extremely significant in the East will be a key to set it up as a pan-India party for a long time ahead. Whereas a victory for the ruling party will tremendously boost regional politics and project CM Mamata who can take upon mighty election machinery. The Bengal election will be very crucial in Indian political history. 

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