The West Bengal election enters the solid fortress of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in the third phase, in which 31 constituencies vote on Tuesday. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is desperate to register its presence in the region going to polls, banking on some of its star faces and the presence of the Indian Secular Front (ISF)’s Abbas Siddiqui, a cleric.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s party won 29 of the 31 seats in the 2016 elections and also led in 85% of these assembly segments in the 2019 national polls, when the BJP won 18 of the state’s 42 seats.
The seats voting on Tuesday are in South 24-Parganas, Hooghly and Howrah districts; many of them have a high share of Muslim population, giving the TMC an advantage. However, Siddiqui’s ISF has got good resonance in this area, and it is contesting eight out of the 31 seats. Siddiqui’s base of Furfura Sharif falls in Hooghly’s Jangipara seat. His brother, Nawsad, is contesting the Bhangor seat in South 24-Parganas. Siddiqui has also campaigned aggressively on the 23 other seats that are being contested by the ISF’s alliance partners, the Left and the Congress.
Wary of the possibility of a division in Muslim votes, CM Banerjee has appealed to Muslim voters to fully back the TMC, and not Siddiqui, whom she accuses of being propped up by the BJP.
Meanwhile, Amit Malviya, the BJP coincharge of Bengal, has said Muslims may well vote for the ISF instead of the TMC after seeing what had happened in Nandigram, where he claimed the CM will lose against her lieutenant-turned-rival, Suvendu Adhikari. Siddiqui has been far more vocal against the TMC than he has been against the BJP. In an interview to News18 last week, he blamed the TMC for paving the way for the BJP’s entry into Bengal. “ISF and its alliance with Left and Congress will harm TMC’s chances on many seats and help us, in the same way as AIMIM (Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen) harmed RJD (Rashtriya Janata Dal)’s chances in Bihar elections (last year),” a BJP leader said.
STAR LEADERS, KEY CHALLENGE
All eyes are on TMC leader and the CM’s nephew, Abhishek Banerjee, in Phase 3 and Phase 4 of the eight-round elections. Sixteen seats in South 24-Parganas are going to polls in Phase 3, and 11 seats will vote in the next phase. Abhishek’s Lok Sabha constituency, Diamond Harbour, is in this district.
Abhishek has extensively campaigned in South 24-Parganas, holding 14 rallies and road shows here. The BJP is, however, hoping that Abhishek’s controversial image, alleged high-handedness of local TMC workers, the issue of cut money (commission), and alleged mishandling of Amphan relief would help the BJP in South 24-Parganas.
In the BJP camp, Lok Sabha MP Locket Chatterjee has taken up the responsibility of delivering some of the eight seats in Hooghly district going to polls on Tuesday; the BJP led two of these assembly segments in the 2019 national polls. Chatterjee is herself contesting an assembly seat that will vote in the next phase. Another important seat in Hooghly voting on Tuesday is Tarakeshwar, where former Rajya Sabha member Swapan Dasgupta is up against the TMC’s local face, Ramendu Singha Roy. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has held a rally in Hooghly, and it is expected to boost to Dasgupta’s chances. Similarly, the BJP is banking on former TMC minister and now a BJP candidate, Rajib Banerjee, to shore up the party’s chances in Howrah district, where two years ago it failed to get any lead in any of the seven seats voting on Tuesday.
Modi will hold rallies in Howrah and Cooch Behar on Tuesday for seats in Phase 4, even as polling takes place for the 31 Phase 3 seats.