Stakes are high for Trinamool Congress and BJP in upcoming Bengal rural polls
The series of clashes and alleged strong-arm tactics adopted by supporters of the ruling Trinamool Congress from the very first day of filing of nomination for the rural polls was unexpected even by the standards of West Bengal, where blood-spill frequently sets the indicator for intensely fought democratic exercise.
Clashes between Trinamool and opposition party workers have been reported from various districts that has prompted the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – on the third day of nomination that will last till April 9 – to rush to the Supreme Court to plead for deployment of central forces and a direction to the Mamata Banerjee administration to ensure “free and fair” polls.
The Bengal rural elections will be held across 48,751 seats at 3,358 gram panchayats, 9,240 seats at 341 panchayat samitis, and 825 seats at 20 zilla parishads in three phases on May 1, 3 and 5. The counting of votes will take place on May 8.
Several opposition parties have accused Trinamool Congress supporters of employing strong-arm tactics at several places, including Lalbag in Murshidabad district, Suri and Labhpur in Birbhum district, and Arambag in Hooghly district.
A 25-year-old man, Mizanur Rahman, was killed in Malda district’s Kaliachak village after he was caught in the crossfire between two rival factions of the Trinamool Congress on April 2.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) state secretary Suryakanta Mishra said they will throw their support behind any candidate who will be fighting on symbols other than those of these two outfits realising they can hardly match the muscle power of the ruling party or that of the rising saffron power.
Even if the Supreme Court hears out the BJP, questions remain whether it will pave the way for peaceful polls as their deployment is the responsibility of the state administration, which is likely to trigger a fresh chapter of controversy on whether their distribution by the district police chiefs would be judicious.
Then there is the bigger picture.
The ground realities of politics in West Bengal is such that the stakes for both ruling Trinamool Congress and the BJP are very high.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee is riding the pinnacle of popularity, but she has to ensure none encroaches on her turf. She is so certain about her support base in Bengal that she has even announced that she will dissociate herself from the rural polls and focus on the national canvas to drum up support of regional parties to form an anti-BJP front for the Lok Sabha elections next year.
That makes it imperative for her lieutenants to ensure that not even a square inch of political space is ceded to the opponents – mainly the BJP – in the rural elections.
The elections are crucial from another angle – it will be a rehearsal for the general elections next year and the outcome will boost the morale of the victor and keep the forces battle-ready for 2019.
The stakes are as high for the saffron camp.
In some of its fortresses such as Rajasthan and Gujarat, the BJP is experiencing headwinds of anti-incumbency. Leaders know the reduction in the number of seats in such states has to be compensated with seats from Odisha and West Bengal.
BJP president Amit Shah has set a target of at least 22 seats in West Bengal, where the party has a mere two out of 42. The BJP knows it too well that a poor show in the rural polls will push that target in the realm of impossibility.
State BJP leaders are vowing to fight back to boost the morale of its workers. Both state party president Dilip Ghosh and general secretary Sayantan Basu have publicly announced that their supporters are prepared to take an eye for an eye.
Laughing away their threats, Trinamool leaders have said the people are with them.
It’s easy to read between the lines.
It’s likely that both the sides will go to any length not only till May 8, but beyond to prepare for the bigger battle next year with so much at stake.