Decoding the 4th phase of voting in West Bengal
Voting in West Bengal has so far remained confined to the southern and western regions of the state. Saturday is the first time polling will take place in the northern half of the state.
Among the four states and the Union Territory of Puducherry voting in this assembly election cycle, polls have concluded everywhere except West Bengal. 203 of 294 assembly constituencies (ACs) in West Bengal will vote in five more phases until April 29. 44 of those 203 ACs will vote on Saturday in the second-biggest phase of the eight-phase election in the state. Here are four charts to put this round of polls in context.
Where are the polls taking place?
Voting in West Bengal has so far remained confined to the southern and western regions of the state. Saturday is the first time polling will take place in the northern half of the state, although roughly 2/3rd of the ACs (30 of 44) voting in this phase are still located in the south Bengal region.
The northern districts voting in this phase are Cooch Behar and Jalpaiguri, which are considered part of the hills region of the state. While all nine ACs of Cooch Behar will conclude voting on Saturday, only five of 12 ACs of Jalpaiguri will vote. With this, 14 of 27 ACs of the hills region will have voted. The remaining 13 ACs of the region , seven of Jalpaiguri district and six of Darjeeling district , will vote in the next phase.
Hooghly, Howrah, and South 24 Parganas , the south Bengal districts voting today – have polled in earlier phases. After the fourth phase, voting in all ACs of these districts and about half (48.5%) of south Bengal’s 167 ACs will be over.
TMC faced big reversals in these ACs in 2019
The ACs of this phase is where the Trinamool Congress (TMC) saw one of the biggest declines in seat share in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, compared to the 2016 assembly election. The TMC won 39 the 44 ACs of this phase in 2016. In 2019, its wins were reduced to 2/3rd of its 2016 wins, as it could win only 25 ACs if the results of the Lok Sabha election are disaggregated at the AC-level. Only among the ACS that voted in the first phase did the TMC see a bigger decline -- its 2019 seat share was about 1/3rd of that in 2016.
What is worrying for the TMC is that the decline of 14 ACs happened with a vote share decline of just 1.3 percentage points. This was possible because while the vote share of anti-TMC parties was divided between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the left parties, the Congress and others in 2016, a large part of it consolidated behind the BJP in 2019. Anti-TMC parties won 19 ACs here in 2019, up from five in 2016 -- and the BJP won all 19.
To be sure, that the BJP took over the seat share of other parties opposed to the TMC, and eroded their vote share, in 2019, does not make them irrelevant to this phase.
The left parties played spoiler in 18 of 44 ACs voting in this phase in 2019. In these 18 ACs, the BJP finished second in 11 and the TMC in seven. If the BJP is not able to win over more Left voters, it could still end up behind the TMC.
TMC’s losses were more in the Hills than in south Bengal
The overall statistics of these 44 ACs hides the trends by regions and districts in the TMC’s decline in 2019 compared to 2016.
In the hills region, the TMC faced a much bigger decline compared to the south Bengal region, where it was a strong player even in 2019. In the 14 ACs of the former, the TMC’s 2019 seat share was 0.17 times that in 2016, whereas in the 30 ACs of the latter, it was 0.85 times that in 2016. Even within the south Bengal districts, TMC’s losses were largely confined to the 10 ACs of Hooghly district, where it won four ACs in 2019 compared to eight in 2016. In South 24 Parganas, TMC won all 11 ACs in 2019.
Demographics will test campaigns of both the BJP and the TMC
In their campaign speeches, BJP leaders have attacked the TMC for its alleged pro-Muslim policies while the TMC has criticised BJP leaders as outsiders. Both these strategies will face their test in this phase. At 66.3%, Jalpaiguri – where five of the ACs of this phase are located – has the third-lowest Bengali speaking population among the 19 districts of the state, according to the 2011 census, and the second highest Hindi and Nepali speaking population. Only Kolkata, which has 61.5% Bengali speakers, and Darjeeling, where 46.4% of the population speaks Nepali, trump Jalpaiguri in share of population that does not speak the language of the majority in the state. This phase and latter rounds later where Kolkata and Darjeeling vote , will likely test chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s “outsider” barbs.
As for the BJP, it will have to contend with the high share of Muslims in Cooch Behar, Howrah, and South 24 Parganas, where the community makes up a quarter to a third of the district’s population. To be sure, even the Hindu population is not homogeneous in the districts voting on Saturday. In Cooch Behar, Scheduled Tribes (STs) comprise almost 2/3rd of the population, while Scheduled Castes (SCs) constitute over 40% of the population in Hooghly and Jalpaiguri.