In West Bengal, BJP To Test Mamata Banerjee’s Mettle Over Sandeshkhali, Corruption

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In Bengal, BJP To Test Mamata Banerjee's Mettle Over Sandeshkhali, Corruption

The poll turf of Bengal looks set to witness yet another PM Modi versus Mamata Banerjee political fight

Kolkata:

The gloves are off and battle lines drawn for yet another high-voltage political face-off between Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress and its prime challenger, the BJP, in West Bengal where 42 Lok Sabha seats, the third highest in India after Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, are up for grabs.

Elections to the 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal will be held in seven phases between April 19 and June 1.

While the opposition INDIA bloc fell through in Bengal with Ms Banerjee choosing to walk the ‘Ekla Cholo Re’ path, the state Pradesh Congress is still keen to forge ties with the Left parties whose hands it already held formally during the 2021 state polls. An official alliance between the two sides for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections is yet to be announced, though.

The BJP, on its part, is likely to rely on its consistent trump card, the popularity and persona of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while reaching out to the state’s electorate.

Licking its wounds from the drubbing in the state polls where the TMC restricted the party to just 77 seats in the Assembly floor that hosts furniture for 294 members, the BJP has had a fresh lease of life over issues of widespread corruption under Ms Banerjee’s rule and, more lately, allegations of land grab and sexual abuse of women against TMC leaders in the non-descript hamlet of Sandeshkhali in the Sunderbans delta.

For all practical purposes hence, the poll turf of Bengal looks set to witness yet another bare-knuckle PM Modi versus Mamata political fight where the saffron brigade would try and do its best to upset the Trinamool apple cart by improving upon its previous tally of 18 seats, considered, much to the chagrin of the state’s ruling dispensation, the party’s best performance yet.

The issues around which the largely three-cornered contest in the state is likely to be centred are as follows:

1. Corruption: Perhaps the most potent of ammunition in BJP’s weaponry, the issue of alleged widespread corruption in Trinamool ranks seems to have pushed the party on the political back foot. Although Ms Banerjee calls the phenomena nothing more than an “aberration in the party”, top TMC leaders continue to languish in jail for alleged recruitment scams in schools and civic bodies, irregularities in food grain distribution and even cross-border cattle smuggling.

2. Sandeshkhali and women voters: What broke out as an organised violence on a raiding ED team at TMC strongman Shajahan Sheikh’s Sandeshkhali residence in early January, quickly metamorphosed into villagers’ protests against forceful land grab and sustained sexual atrocities on women by the leader and his cohorts. While the protests snowballed over time, the TMC found itself smeared with a stigma it dreaded most on the eve of the polls: the prospect of losing the trust of women voters. Ms Banerjee is believed to have consistently enjoyed the loyalty of the state’s women voters and PM Modi, during his recent trips to the state, have unambiguously stated that the Sandeshkhali issue would remain the fulcrum of the BJP’s poll campaigns.

3. The Bohiragoto (outsider) tag: Considered to be the TMC’s tried and tested agenda against the BJP from the state polls three years ago, the ‘bohiragoto’ jab against the BJP leaders of the country’s Hindi heartland now finds a corollary: that of ‘Bengal-haters’. ‘Jonogoner gorjon, Bangla birodhider bisarjan’ (the roar of the people is to throw the Bengal-haters out), was the central slogan for polls coined at the TMC mega rally at Brigade Parade Ground on March 10.

4. Central funds: The most consistent of all issues riding which the TMC hopes to garner votes from Bengal’s countryside is the withholding of central funds in projects like the MNREGS and PM Avaas Yojna. Added to the tax dues from the Centre, TMC claims that the total receivables exceed Rs one lakh crore, impeding development in the state and causing financial distress to the rural poor. While Ms Banerjee has begun disbursing MNREGS money from state coffers to the beneficiaries-in-wait, her nephew Abhishek has challenged the BJP for an open debate on the issue and demanded the publication of a white paper on the subject.

5. CAA: In her bid to obfuscate the likely adverse impact of Sandeshkhali developments and foster damage control with respect to corruption, Ms Banerjee lost no time to oppose the Citizenship Amendment Act which the Centre operationalised by notification of rules earlier this week. Calling the Act a “precursor to NRC” and a “jumla to mislead immigrants”, the Trinamool supremo announced her intent to make CAA one of her primary election issues. Contrarily, the BJP hopes to reap political benefits out of the Act on the eve of the polls, especially in the Matua-community-dominated pockets of Bengal.

6. Setting theory: A favourite with the state’s Left and Congress leaders alike, the theory of a “tacit understanding between Modi and Didi” buried deep under the political brouhaha of the two opponents is what the third major political force of the state is likely to go to town with during this election season. The alleged “delay” in scam probes by the central agencies that have “kept the TMC top brass outside the police net” is an issue which the Left and Congress are likely to bring back to the campaign centre stage.

Besides the above, both TMC and the BJP are looking to cry hoarse over other issues that have dominated Bengal’s political ecospace for a while now. While the Trinamool is likely to scream about the “use of central agencies by the BJP to intimidate its opposition” and “religion-based divisive politics of the BJP”, the saffron party would surely be highlighting issues of law and order in the state and “strangulation of democracy by politicizing the police and administration” under the Mamata Banerjee regime. 

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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