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Banking on Bengal: Can BJP score an upset in Mamata Banerjee bastion?

Abhimanyu Kulkarni
Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal

The Bharatiya Janata Party and Trinamool Congress are going all out to woo the voters in West Bengal. Both Narendra Modi and Mamata Banerjee will start their Lok Sabha 2019 campaigns in the state on Wednesday.

Banerjee is expected to address 100 rallies across Bengal, at least two rallies in each of the 42 constituencies in the state.

The prime minister will hold his first public address at Siliguri on Wednesday. He will hold 3 more rallies in Kolkata and north Bengal on April 7 and 10, news agency PTI reported.

Why Bengal is crucial for BJP

West Bengal had been a stronghold of the Left, before Mamata Banerjee-led TMC dislodged them. The Left ruled the state for 34 years – from 1977 to 2011 – with Jyoti Basu at the helm for the majority of this period. TMC managed to make a dent when a major unemployment problem emerged leading to industries shutting shop.

The BJP managed to win only 3 seats during the 2016 Assembly elections. TMC swept those elections winning 211 seats. The saffron party’s performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections was dismal too when despite 16.8% of the vote share, they managed to win only 2 seats. With the party seeming to gain ground in the local body and panchayat polls, the BJP is banking on Bengal to compensate for some of the damage that it may suffer in states where it had a clean sweep in the 2014 polls.

Why is Banerjee so popular?

Banerjee seems to know how to keep the people of Bengal happy. Not only has she tried to attract the private sector to invest in the state and in turn ensure more jobs, she has also launched a number of policies for the farmers and women. The Krishak Bandhu scheme offering the farmers Rs 5,000 per acre and the Kanyashree scheme to educate girls received a warm response.

In what is being hailed as a masterstroke, Banerjee also announced 40.5% reservation for women in her party.

Can the BJP score an upset?

Mukul Roy, who used to be Mamata Banerjee’s right-hand man, has now joined the BJP. And the party is harping on Roy to ensure that more TMC leaders join their campaign.

Another factor that may go in BJP’s favour is incidents of violence allegedly by TMC workers during and after elections. Keeping this in mind, the Election Commission has appointed a special central police observer for the state.

With just a week to go, the question BJP would be battling with is how to reach the threshhold where it can win more seats.