May 18, 2016 4:36:02 pm
The stakes are higher than ever before. On the eve of the election results, as candidates and party leaders await the news of who will form the government for the next five years in the state of West Bengal, despite exit polls predicting that it will be an unambiguous victory for incumbent CM Mamata Banerjee, leaders of both the Trinamool and the Left camps are far from confident. A bitterly fought campaign over the past two and a half months, with strategies formulated and reformulated with military precision, the 2016 vidhan sabha election in West Bengal has been nothing less than a bid to survive for all political parties in the state.
For the relatively new entrant, the Bharatiya Janata Party, which gained nascent popularity for the first time in the 2014 parliamentary elections riding on a Modi wave, the election is a test of fire, of trying to make its mark in a state which has consciously been Left-leaning and has stubbornly resisted the right wing party. Even Mamata’s Trinamool is often seen as nothing more than the “new Left”. The BJP’s foray into the assembly elections is with one eye at all times on the 2019 parliamentary elections. With little to lose, the BJP’s attempt has been to gain as much ground as possible, trying to net the voter that was disgruntled with the TMC but looking for an alternative to the Left alliance.
With much infighting and many differences to iron out within the party, the assembly election have been more of a test run for the BJP. Any seats captured will be nothing less than a minor victory and a platform on which to balance future campaigns, the party’s plans for West Bengal being long term. If the BJP does not manage to capture any seats in this election, analysts say that it may never be able to make a second foray in to the state.
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It’s between arch rivals Trinamool Congress and the CPI(M) that the stakes are the highest. The CPI(M) has made a brave departure from its usual political line in its “electoral understanding’’ with the Congress. Before the TMC came into existence, the Congress and the Left had been bitter rivals. The “understanding’’ has not come without a cost, a gamble that can change the electoral politics of West Bengal for all future elections. Battling the accusation of “opportunism’’ both the CPI(M) and its allies as well as the Congress have had to convince and bring over its own cadre members and leaders. Memories of atrocities committed by the Left on Congress workers and those committed by the Congress on the CPI(M) remain even with the passage of time.
Dissidents say that the “hardcore’’ Left workers would never vote for the Congress and vice versa, never mind the seat sharing strategy that senior leaders may have come up with. The gamble of an informal coalition may have cost both parties but neither had much choice in this election. With the CPI(M) completely wiped out in the last election, and the Congress party’s existence hanging barely by a thread, there seemed to be no alternative than a compromise.
If the “jote” strategy does not work, and the TMC wins a landslide as has been predicted by some exit polls, the the Left will have to think hard on how to re-invent itself once again in the state.
Analysts say that they may never be able to recover from the loss.
The Congress is likely to suffer a worse fate than the CPI(M). Seen as a “secondary” party in West Bengal, the Congress is unlikely to come to power on its own, as an independent party, in the near future. Its importance in West Bengal primarily rests on its power to swing numbers as an ally and assist in forming governments – in 2011 the TMC came to power with Congress lending support as an ally. If the “jote” does well in this election, it would’ve preserved its role as a king maker. If, however, the TMC wins by a large margin tomorrow, the Congress importance in electoral politics of the state will be reduced to almost nothing.
The feeling among the electorate is that the Trinamool has suffered massive setbacks. With a corrupt government and corrupt ministers and leaders, the image has been undeniably tarnished over the past five years. Mamata Banerjee’s own image as a champion of the poor and downtrodden has also suffered. With the Sharada scam, the Narada sting operation tapes being released and then the collapse of the Vivekananda flyover (where it is suspected adulterated material supplied by the local MLA has been used), the popularity of the Trinamool has been sliding through long campaign.
Many analysts believe that this is the beginning of the end for Mamata and her party. If the Left-Congress alliance does do well, whether they actually win or not, they would have made enough ground by the next assembly election to displace Mamata entirely, a defeat from which she may never recover. Analysts say that in case of a defeat, there is a possibility that Mamata Banerjee may even disappear from West Bengal politics as we know it.
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