Lok Sabha elections 2019: With phase 4, elections move to Trinamool stronghold south Bengal
With phase four, polling for which will be held on Monday, the elections will be moving into south Bengal that has been the fortress for ruling Trinamool Congress.
So far the 10 constituencies where the people have voted in the first three phases were located mainly in north Bengal, where the emerging force of Bharatiya Janata Party is hoping to do better than in the southern parts of the state.
While Mamata Banerjee has vowed to pick up all 42 seats in the state, the BJP state president Dilip Ghosh has claimed that her party is unlikely to win any seat in the 10 that went to the polls in the first three phases.
Ignoring both extremes, political analysts say that the ruling party is likely to face extremely tough contest in some north Bengal constituencies such as Alipurduar, Cooch Behar, Darjeeling, and Malda North from the BJP, while the Congress will give Trinamool a run for its money in Raiganj, Malda South and Jangipur.
That’s all the more reason elections to the remaining 32 constituencies is extremely crucial for Mamata Banerjee.
The eight seats up for grabs in phase four are Baharampur, Krishnagar, Ranaghat, Asansol, Burdwan East, Burdwan-Durgapur, Bolpur and Birbhum.
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In 2014, out of these eight, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won one seat each. The remaining six were cornered by the ruling party.
In the last Lok Sabha elections, Trinamool won 34 seats in the state and of these as many as 30 were in south Bengal.
Just for the candidates contesting from them, three constituencies stand out among the eight in phase four. These are Berhampore, Asansol and Burdwan-Durgapur.
The Congress candidate from Baharampur (in Murshidabad district), Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, is one of the most bitter and consistent critics of the Trinamool Congress chief. And he has not tasted defeat in the past four general elections, having carved out a following of his own despite the declining fortunes of India’s oldest party in West Bengal.
Chowdhury’s winning margin of 356,567 was the highest by any Congress candidate in the country in 2014. While Chowdhury looks set for a fifth successive victory, Mamata Banerjee unleashed a no-holds-barred campaign against him, even alleging that he was backed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party during the campaign.
While analysts pointed out that the Trinamool chief was probably trying to wean away some Muslim votes in the constituency that seem to be solidly with Chowdhury, the Congress candidate has dared anyone to vanquish him from the seat in Murshidabad district.
Incidentally, according to the 2011 census, Muslims constitute as many as 66.27% of the population of Murshidabad district.
Despite the apparent pro-Muslim tilt in Mamata Banerjee’s policies, her party has not won any Lok Sabha seat in the districts of Murshidabad and Malda, where Muslims make up 51.27% of the population (according to 2011 census).
Asansol, another high-profile constituency, might offer tough contest for Trinamool Congress. The incumbent and BJP nominee from this seat, Babul Supriyo, won in 2014, with not so impressive margin of 70480 votes. The candidature of Trinamool’s Moon Moon Sen, who had a lacklustre performance as an MP from Bankura constituency in 2014, has raised many eyebrows.
The other BJP MP from Bengal in 2014, S S Ahluwalia, who won from the high-profile Darjeeling seat, is contesting from Burdwan-Durgapur. His key opponent is Trinamool’s Mamtaz Sanghamita who won the seat in the last general elections by 107,331 votes.
BJP leaders are quite confident that they would win in Asansol, Burdwan-Durgapur, Krishnagar and Birbhum. The last three were won by Mamata banerjee’s party in 2014.
Political analysts have pointed out Trinamool Congress has an edge in Burdwan Durgapur, Burdwan East, Bolpur and Birbhum. In many parts of south Bengal, and especially in Birbhum district, a sentiment that might play against the ruling party is the inability of many to cast their votes in the panchayat elections in May 2018, apart from the fact that in many areas the question of exercising the franchise never arose since opposition candidates could not even file nomination, allegedly due to muscle-flexing by Trinamool Congress workers.
In Ranaghat, where more than a quarter of the electorate are Matuas (a dalit community that migrated from erstwhile East Pakistan since Independence and also after 1971), Mamata Banerjee sprang a surprise by nominating a 25-year-old homemaker, and a political greenhorn, whose husband, a two-time Trinamool MLA, was shot dead on February 10.
To ensure free and fair elections in a state where polls and bloodshed go hand in hand, the Election Commission has planned to put about 98% of the polling stations under central paramilitary forces.
Though Trinamool Congress leaders have repeatedly alleged that the poll watchdog is working at the behest of the BJP in putting such an overwhelming number of polling stations under central forces, the opposition parties have welcomed the decision, with Narendra Modi even mentioning in a public meeting on April 24 that before the general elections in 2009, Mamata Banerjee, then an opposition leader, demanded that President’s rule be imposed in Bengal and the armed forces deployed for the sake of free and fair polls.