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Assembly polls: BJP’s mission to win South starts with dream of West Bengal

By Saima Siddiqui 
Updated Date

Kolkata: Since the BJP has come in power in 2014 it has been dreaming to rule the whole country under one saffron flag. And to make this wish come true the party has pulled out all stops to win a state that has voted left and Centre since Independence.

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This assembly polls, three large blocs are in the running for the state but the gradual post-2016 decimation of the Left Front Congress combine in large parts of Bengal indicates a straight fight between Trinamool Congress and BJP.

In last four months, Trinamool has lost three ministers and 14 MLAs, with former state transport minister Suvendu Adhikari being the biggest of BJP’s catches. Rajib Banerjee, Sovan Chatterjee, Sabyasachi Dutta and Sunil Mandal have been the other significant ones.

But Bengal’s ruling party has insisted that no defections matter as long as CM Mamata Banerjee has a direct line to state’s voters. Mamata, in a move to further reinforce that direct line, has declared that she will contest from Nandigram besides her home constituency of Bhowanipore in south Kolkata.

Nandigram, along with Singur in Hooghly, has tremendous symbolism in West Bengal politics; the two movements originating from these two places during the LF regime’s last term in office catapulted TMC and Banerjee to a decade in office in Bengal.

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In 2007, Nandigram farmers’ protest had claimed 14 lives, where clashes between protesting farmers and the police had taken a violent turn. In the subsequent assembly election of 2011, Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress crafted the “Ma, Maati, Manush” campaign around that incident to protect farmers’ land from the proposed economic zone project in Nandiram and registered a landslide victory.

Mamata’s return to Nandigram signifies her willingness to take the battle to her former closed aide, Suvendu Adhikari, who crossed over to the BJP last month. To note, Mamata had contested last elections from Bhawanipore in Kolkata. The party will depend solely on Banerjee’s charisma and her social-welfare schemes and “development work” of the last 10 years to appeal to voters to give it one more term in office.

Meanwhile, BJP has multiple faces, including TMC defectors as well as the party’s old guard represented by state unit head Dilip Ghosh and Union minister Babul Supriyo. It also has outsized dependence on central heavyweights — PM Modi, Union home minister Amit Shah, party chief J P Nadda and central minder Kailash Vijayvargiya — and has so far refrained from projecting a clear CM face, as it did in UP, however, this move is yet untested in Bengal.

Several regions like – Birbhum, East and West Burdwan, Hooghly, Howrah, East and West Midnapore, Bankura, Purulia, Nadia, North and South 24-Parganas and Kolkata, have become central to both parties’ plans but the battle may finally be won or lost in south Bengal which account for 218 seats in the 294-member assembly.

As the Bengal constitutes a significant number of Muslim and Hindi-speaking Hindu voters sharing space with the Bengali middle-class, the election in the state will be fought on the bases of “identity politics” versus “development politics”.

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