Until about a month ago, Trinamool Congress leaders could be heard proclaiming how their party was cruising to a two-thirds majority in the West Bengal assembly elections.
But as the six phase polls slowly progress in the state, the ruling party’s confidence appears to have dissipated.
An informal alliance between the Left Front and Congress has gained in strength on the ground and a string of corruption scams – including the unprecedented collapse of an under-construction flyover in Kolkata -- has dented chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s image.
“This time it will be a close fight -- closer than anything thought earlier -- between the ruling party and the alliance,” said a senior state government official.
“Mamata has done a lot of development work but her party leaders and ministers are under the scanner of agencies that are probing scams. It’s without a parallel in Bengal’s history.”
The mathematics were always stacked in favour of the opposition alliance – in 2011, the Trinamool’s 39.08% vote share was far lower than the Left’s (41.05%) and the Congress’ (8.91%) votes are put together.
The Trinamool and the Congress were in coalition at the time and swept the Left out of power after three decades.
The alliance and the Trinamool were evenly matched in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections but the ruling party will be in trouble if the Left-Congress combine consolidates the 16.8% voteshare polled by the BJP in the general elections.
“The gap is gradually reducing between the ruling party and the alliance. This time there is no pro-Mamata wave that we saw in 2011,” a senior bureaucrat close to Banerjee said.
Add to this a series of controversies such as a purported sting video that showed 13 Trinamool leaders receiving bribes. The flyover collapse established the ruinous effect of syndicates and another sting allegedly tied the illegal network to prominent Trinamool leaders.
The alliance that began with messy seat-sharing negotiations has also upped its game. Senior leaders from both camps such as Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Sitaram Yechuri and former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya campaigned at joint rallies and meetings.
Local workers of both parties appear enthused and observers in even the Trinamool stronghold of south Bengal indicate a neck-and-neck fight.
“Simple arithmetic of vote share may go against Trinamool despite its development work. BJP’s vote will go to the alliance because Left supporters who voted for BJP in 2014 may return to their own camp,” psephologist professor Biswanath Chakraborty told HT.
Tough patrolling by paramilitary forces and an alert election commission reined in the infamous Trinamool strongmen.
“A party can usually rustle up 20% votes by unfair means. This time we could not achieve it due to the overactive EC and central forces,” a Kolkata Trinamool leader said, predicting around 170 seats for the party.
Banerjee appears to have sensed the momentum shift, softening her usually belligerent tone.
Speaking at a public rally a few days after the flyover collapse, she said, “If there were any errors, I should be responsible.”