With all counting trends in, the Bharatiya Janata Party seems set to make inroads in West Bengal with leads in 18 seats against Trinamool Congress’s 23 seats in the state where the two parties are locked in a fierce fight . The Congress is ahead in 1 seats.
In 2014, TMC won 34 seats, the Congress four, the Left and the BJP two each.
The exit polls have projected gains fo the BJP in the state with the tally set to go up from 2 of 2014 polls to double figures. Mamata Banerjee, whose TMC won 34 seats in 2014, has vowed to make a clean sweep.
The campaign in Bengal has been a bitter and often violent one. Last week, the Election Commission cut short the campaign for the final phase of polling by a day for what it called unprecedented law and order situation.
Bengal had voted in all phases of the seven-phase elections.
Going by the ramifications that the results might have on the state, the significance of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections perhaps surpasses that of the 2009 general elections when cracks in the seemingly impregnable Left Front fortress became evident, or the landmark 2011 Assembly polls that ended the 34-year-old Left rule in Bengal.
The stakes are very high for both the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) as well as the challenger Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). While TMC supremo and chief minister Mamata Banerjee had vowed to make a clean sweep of the 42 constituencies in the state to emerge as a power behind the throne in Delhi, BJP president Amit Shah has set a target of a minimum of 22-23 seats to compensate for any possible of erosion of seats in the Hindi heartland.
If, as indicated by the exit polls results, BJP will win double digits, it will have wide repercussions in the state, where the party’s best show has been two MPs and three MLAs in an Assembly of 294.
The campaign in Bengal was the most high-decibel and the most rhetoric-laden ever. Prime Minister Narendra Modi alleged that chief minister Mamata Banerjee and her nephew Abhishek were “extortionists”, while the chief minister described him as a rioter and prescribed “sit-ups for him holding his ears”.
Words such as “liar”, “fraud”, “thugs” and “thieves” targeted at senior most leaders of political parties flew thick and fast from public rallies and personal attacks that frequently transgressed limits of etiquette were launched without batting an eyelid. Trinamool Congress candidates such as filmstars Nusrat Jahan (from Basirhat constituency), Mimi Chakraborty (from Jadavpur), Moon Moon Sen (from Asansol) were targeted in obscene memes.
“I have never seen such a torrent of personal attacks in any campaign in Bengal,” said former principal of Presidency College and political analyst Amal Kumar Mukhopadhyay.
The Election Commission and the central paramilitary forces came under heavy criticism by the TMC leaders. While Mamata Banerjee criticised the poll panel and accused it of selling out to the ruling party at the Centre, she also alleged that BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangha men were masquerading as central forces personnel and influencing voters to cast their vote in favour of the BJP.
The BJP pulled out all the stops in the electioneering as it deployed all its star campaigners in the state from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to party president Amit Shah, from Tripura chief minister Biplab Deb to Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath. Modi addressed as many as 17 public rallies in Bengal.
To protect her turf, TMC chief Mamata Banerjee addressed more than 120 public meetings and walked more than 100 km in padayatras, most of which were under a merciless sun between 3 and 5 pm and in the extreme humidity that the state is infamous for.
The saffron camp built their campaign on allegations such as extortion by TMC leaders, appeasement of Muslims by the ruling party and tailoring of government policies accordingly, encouragement to infiltration across the Bangladesh border, throttling of democracy by the TMC leaders with special reference to the 34% of the seats in 2018 panchayat polls being won without a contest by the TMC, impediment to development in the state by the chief minister herself, denial of central schemes such as Ayushman Bharat to the residents of Bengal.
The BJP leaders also accused the TMC chief of questioning the effectiveness of the Balakot air strikes and portrayed her as someone who is ready to accept the Pakistan Prime Minister but not the Indian Prime Minister, who she described as “Expiry babu”.
Mamata Banerjee led a blistering counter-attack and questioned Modi on all fronts, alleging that he failed to perform on all fronts and counted demonetisation, the Goods and Services Tax, the massacre of CRPF personnel in Pulawama, NRC, Citizenship Amendment Bill. She also alleged that he not only neglected Bengal, but also understood little of Bengali ethos and was trying to use Hindutva to win elections in the state.
However, the most intriguing aspect of the Bengal elections is the four-cornered fight that has been very rare in the state. It has led the pundits and analysts speculate on a variety of combinations and the real possibilities of voters from one camp aligning with another.
This was the first time when the BJP, TMC, the Left and Congress fought the elections with none of the parties having any understanding with another. Though the four camps contested on their own in 2014 Lok Sabha elections as well, the BJP was a fringe force in the state that had won only 6.14% and 4.06% of the votes in 2009 LS polls and the 2011 Assembly elections.
“I don’t expect too much erosion in Left votes that stood at close to 30% in 2014 Lok Sabha polls and 26% in 2016 Assembly elections when they had an understanding with the Congress,” said Maidul Islam, who teaches political science at Centre for Studies In Social Sciences Kolkata.
“I think the BJP could have done better if they had focused on the undemocratic nature of the TMC and not on the NRC or any citizenship screening exercise,” said Biswanath Chakraborty, psephologist and professor of political science of Rabindra Bharati University.