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Battle of equals? TMC and BJP locked in tense Bengal fight that can go either way

With Bengal in the heat of an intense political battle between TMC and BJP, the upcoming assembly polls could go either way. It’s clear why BJP is exuding confidence about forming its first government in Bengal. The party’s well-oiled electoral machinery has made unprecedented inroads in the state, a fact exemplified by the large number of netas from other parties flocking to its ranks. This, however, also seems to have created a problem of plenty for the party. Unhappy with tickets being given to the new entrants – particularly from TMC – the party’s old guard are expressing their displeasure in inconvenient ways.

In Hooghly, angry BJP supporters ransacked the party’s district office in Chinsurah and locked up the Chandernagore office. Then BJP worker Nirupam Mukherjee reportedly made a failed suicide bid fearing that former TMC strongman who recently joined BJP, Debaprasad Biswas, may get the ticket from Saptagram. Meanwhile, several BJP netas have threatened to contest as independents against the party’s official candidates. True, ticket distribution always causes heartburn for certain party workers. But with BJP’s poll campaign focussing on highlighting corruption and syndicate raj under the Mamata Banerjee regime, TMC turncoats getting preference over party old-timers can undermine the party’s message of poriborton.

It also remains to be seen how Mamata’s injury at Nandigram and her decision to continue campaigning in a wheelchair will be read by the voters. Mamata has been playing up the fact she’s the only woman CM in the country today, stressing that Bengal wants to re-elect its own daughter – a not-so-subtle bid to project BJP as a party of outsiders. Calling herself a “wounded tigress”, Mamata looks to be Bengal’s Modi.

If she’s to scrape through, she would need TMC’s women vote bank to remain intact. According to Lokniti-CSDS data 48% women voted for TMC – six percentage points higher than men – in the 2016 assembly polls. No wonder the party has given tickets to 50 women candidates this time. Another imponderable is the Muslim vote. With the Indian Secular Front of Abbas Siddique joining the Left-Congress combine, the Muslim vote could split and indirectly help BJP. However, everyone assumes that significant chunks of the Muslim vote will go with a Muslim-led party; Muslims might belie this expectation by voting strategically for TMC to defeat BJP. All in all, an absorbing contest is unfolding in Bengal.

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This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.



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