Optimistic about a favourable outcome in the 2021 assembly polls in West Bengal scheduled to be held in April-May, state Bharatiya Janata Party president Dilip Ghosh has already started chalking out plans to oust the ruling Trinamool Congress in more than 100 civic bodies.
Ghosh, who was re-elected the Bengal BJP president on January 16, 2020, has asked party workers to increase mass contact with people in all 107 municipalities across the state.
The party is focusing on all the 144 wards in Kolkata Municipal Corporation with a clear narrative that the BJP can run the KMC more effectively than the Trinamool Congress.
The BJP has also started working on report cards of TMC councillors to highlight their failures. The party will underscore the dengue menace in the city besides alleged poor infrastructure of municipality-run schools and healthcare centres, and sanitation work.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the saffron party stumped the TMC by winning an impressive 18 of the 42 seats on offer in Bengal.
With significant gains in the state ahead of the assembly elections and with high hopes of winning, the BJP is now also eyeing the civic polls which it feels will determine its actual strength in the state.
Political strategists say that the assembly and civic polls will perhaps be chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s toughest challenge to retain her citadel.
In the past five years, the BJP has made visible inroads in Bengal and the party under the leadership of Dilip Ghosh has not only managed to wrest 18 Lok Sabha seats (compared to a mere two seats in 2014) from the ruling TMC, it has also done well in nearly 51 out of 144 wards under the KMC.
During the 2019 parliamentary polls, when political experts were busy analysing the performances of various political parties, especially the BJP and TMC, in Bengal, researchers in the saffron camp had reason to cheer as voting patterns suggested that in South and North Kolkata, the BJP took the lead in nearly 26 wards. Significantly, this included ward number 82 in Chetla which belongs to mayor Firhad Hakim of the Trinamool.
In January 2019, Hakim won a by-election from Chetla by securing nearly 76.82 per cent votes. In 2010, he won from the same ward with nearly 72 per cent votes. His scale of victory was huge against the BJP’s Jiban Sen who could manage only 11.95 per cent votes.
But in the Lok Sabha elections a few months later, Firhad’s party colleague Mala Roy (Kolkata South candidate) managed to take a lead by around 1,000 votes only from this segment.
The most significant was Mamata Banerjee’s own ward number 73. In this ward, as per voting patterns during the general elections, the BJP was ahead by nearly 490 votes.
TMC also has cause for worry in ward numbers 58, 85 and 93. While ward number 58 belongs to senior mayor-in-council member Swapan Samaddar, ward numbers 85 and 93 belong to Debasish Kumar and Ratan De respectively. In all the three wards, the party failed to secure a lead.
Also, at least three borough TMC chairpersons — Sandip Bakshi, Ratan Malakar and Susanta Ghosh — also trailed in their respective wards.
Senior TMC leader and party MP Sudip Bandopadhyay also trailed in eight of the 11 wards at Jorasanko in Kolkata North Lok Sabha constituency. In Jadavpur, the ruling TMC trailed in four wards.
Dilip Ghosh has claimed on several occasions that the Trinamool is scared of holding the civic polls because Mamata Banerjee knows that her party will face a humiliating loss.
In 2015, the TMC had won 114 wards out of a total 144 under KMC. The Left parties had won 15, while the BJP and Congress had won 7 and five respectively.
That year, polling was held in 91 municipalities across the state and the TMC managed to win 71.
The State Election Commission (SEC) has drafted a reservation list for the civic polls which indicates that four member mayors-in-council (MMiCs) - Swapan Samaddar (environment and basti development), Ratan Dey (roads), Baiswanor Chatterjee (housing) and Debabrata Majumder (solid waste management) - and two borough chairmen of the KMC will not be able to contest from their own wards.
As per the SEC’s draft, eight out of the KMC’s 144 wards have come under Scheduled Caste (SC) reservation including three for SC women. A total of 45 wards have been reserved for the general women category.
On October 1, 2020, the West Bengal BJP demanded the immediate intervention of the State Election Commission in conducting elections in more than 107 municipalities and corporations.
Alleging that the TMC government is intentionally delaying the poll process, the state BJP has written a letter to the Bengal poll panel, while pointing to the Supreme Court’s order (dated September 22, 2020), which sought the state EC’s opinion on how soon the pending elections could be conducted.
Earlier, the Calcutta High Court had also observed that the elections should be held as soon as possible.
State BJP vice president Jay Prakash Majumdar in his letter to the poll panel had mentioned, “There is a travesty in the West Bengal State Election Commission Act about the responsibility of fixing the date of elections. While the state government is empowered by the Act to finalise the dates of local body elections, the SEC is obliged to conduct the election and to carry out the responsibility of fulfilling the democratic process. But unless the state government initiates the process, the SEC remains a lame duck. Therefore you are duty bound towards the people of West Bengal in superintending direction and conducting elections to all those municipalities and corporations where the tenure of the respective boards has expired. We request you to act strongly to carry out your constitutional obligations of conducting free and fair elections without fear or favour, affection or ill-will."