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Thursday, Dec 12, 2019

Lok Sabha elections 2019: High-stakes battle in Bengal in third phase polling

In phase 3, Bengal’s ruling party has to overcome history. Trinamool has never won any Lok Sabha seat in Malda and Murshidabad districts, traditionally known as the Congress belt.

lok-sabha-elections Updated: Apr 22, 2019 19:17 IST
Avijit Ghosal
Avijit Ghosal
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee addresses an election rally in Murshidabad Lok Sabha constituency, which goes to polls on April 23 with four other seats.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee addresses an election rally in Murshidabad Lok Sabha constituency, which goes to polls on April 23 with four other seats.(ANI file photo )
         

A lot is at stake for Trinamool Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party, Congress and the Left in the third phase of the Lok Sabha elections in five constituencies in Bengal on April 23.

Balurghat in South Dinajpur district, Malda North, Malda South (in Malda district), Jangipur and Murshidabad (Murshidabad district) are the constituencies which are going to the polls in the third phase of the seven-phase elections.

Given the challenge Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee is facing with BJP president Amit Shah setting a target of winning at least 22 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in Bengal, every seat is crucial for the TMC which won 34 seats in 2014. Banerjee herself has vowed to make a clean sweep in her state.

Read: Full coverage of Lok Sabha elections 2019

In this phase, Bengal’s ruling party has to overcome history. Trinamool has never won any Lok Sabha seat in Malda and Murshidabad districts, traditionally known as the Congress belt. There are five seats in these two districts and four of these (Malda North, Malda South, Jangipur and Murshidabad) are going to the polls on April 23.

 In the 2014 Lok Sabha results, Mamata Banerjee’s party won only one (Balurghat) of the five seats, for which polling will be held on April 23. Of the other four, three – Malda North, Malda South and Jangipur – were won by the Congress and one, Murshidabad, by the Communist Party of India.

Read: All you need to know about West Bengal

In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, too, when Trinamool Congress had got a fresh lease of life, thanks to the Singur and Nandigram resistance movements in the state, these seats remained beyond their grasp.

 However, the 2016 assembly election results were slightly more encouraging for the ruling party. Of the 35 assembly constituencies across the five LS seats, Trinamool candidates won only in eight. Even the Left, which is fading fast in the state, won nine. The Congress won 16. One was won by the BJP and one by an independent.

 Banerjee handed the assignment to wean over Congress and Left legislators in this region to her trusted lieutenant Suvendu Adhikari after the poor show in the assembly polls in this zone despite the landslide victory in the entire state with the TMC winning 211 out of 294 seats in the House.

Read: North Bengal, West UP could boost BJP’s national prospects

As many as eight legislators from the Congress and two from the Left switched over to the TMC since the 2016 assembly elections in the state.

In end-January this year, Mausam Benazir Noor, who won from Malda North Lok Sabha constituency in 2014 on a Congress ticket, joined Mamata Banerjee’s party. The TMC chief promptly nominated Noor as her party’s candidate from Malda North.

 While campaigning in Malda and Murshidabad, Mamata Banerjee said that over the past few years, a number of Trinamool Congress leaders who had turned their backs toward the party have returned to the TMC.

“Trinamool Congress will win all the seats in Malda and Murshidabad,” said the chief minister.

Over the past few days, Bengal’s ruling party chief went for a no-holds-barred criticism of the Congress, even alleging that the party’s incumbents and Congress candidates in Jangipur and Baharampur (polling in this seat will be held on April 29) were getting support from Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Read: ‘Take oath to defeat BJP’, Mamata tells Bengal’s dalits in border district

The stakes are equally high for India’s oldest party. In fact, it’s a question of survival for the Congress in this region. Malda and Murshidabad districts comprise the only zone, apart from Raiganj in North Dinajpur district that has some signs of the Congress in Bengal where it was in power for the last time in 1972-1977.

Over the past few years, Mamata Banerjee and her lieutenants have been saying that India’s grand old party has almost shrunk to a mere signboard in the state, and it is only this zone that can offer the Congress any hope against literally turning into one.

 In the last four elections in the state, Congress has decayed progressively and the vote share is a crucial indicator. The party got 13.45% and 9.69% in 2009 and 2014 Lok Sabha elections and 9.09% and 12.25% in 2011 and 2016 assembly polls.

After the party defeated the BJP in the assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh late last year, there were some signs of life in the West Bengal Pradesh Congress. Whether it is sufficient to survive the onslaught of a muscular Trinamool Congress and a rising BJP remains to be seen.

  The Left, too, is gasping in Bengal, its citadel till eight years ago. It will be an uphill task for the party to retain the Murshidabad seat that it won in 2014 by a margin of 18,453 votes.

In the 2016 assembly polls, the Left put up its worst show in Bengal since Independence. In 2019, the challenge before them is to prevent a complete rout from their erstwhile fortress.

According to the 2011 census, Muslims constitute 66.26% of the population of Murshidabad district. For Malda district, the figure is 51.27%.

While at first glance that looks like a major challenge for the BJP, party leaders are hoping that the quadrangular contest will result in a split of the Muslim votes among the Congress, Trinamool Congress and the Left, which will offer them a window of opportunity.

If that happens, it will certainly be a new chapter in Bengal politics.