Over a billion people of India are all set to elect their next government for the period 2019 to 2024 as the nation goes to polls today. The polls are set to be conducted in 7 phases all over India. West Bengal would be voting in all 7 phases with some constituencies voting in the first phase today with BJP, for the first time, emerging as a player in the polls. While the polls were not even underway for a few hours, reports of violence from two constituencies, Cooch Behar and Alipurduar emerged.
West Bengal elections have often been marred with rampant violence and intimidation. During the Panchayat polls, booth capturing was a common scene while the Media mostly played Nero’s guests.
Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) has a firm grip on West Bengal. With a brute majority of 213 out of 295 Assembly seats. In 2014 General Elections, out of 42 seats, TMC bagged a whopping 34 seats while BJP bagged only 2.
One wonders then, why TMC would feel compelled to indulge in such rampant violence and booth capturing every election just to maintain their hold. Does the party truly believe that without violence, their juggernaut would be vulnerable? That after the massive mandate that the people of West Bengal have given Mamata Banerjee, year to year, in every election, they would get drastically swayed to vote for a party like BJP whose ideology is a polar opposite of TMC’s?
The truth is that West Bengal, and any state which has predominantly been Communist for decades, has a reputation of turning with the blink of an eye. Take Tripura for example.
In 2013 Assembly Elections, the BJP had not even managed to win 1 seat in Tripura. The Communist party had won 49 seats and Congress had bagged 10. Just the next year, in 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Communists had bagged both Lok Sabha seats leaving the national parties far behind.
In 4 years, by the time 2018 assembly elections were held, the tables had turned and how. BJP ended up bagging 36 seats and the Communists were restricted at 16 seats. From 49 seats in 2013 to all 2 Lok Sabha seats in 2014 to 16 seats and a complete rout in Tripura in 2018. Few pollsters had predicted this rout. Jann Ki Baat had got it right and had predicted 14 to 23 for the Communists. CVoter, however, had given the Communists 24 to 36 seats.
Communist states are generally difficult to predict for traditional pollsters and psephologists because voters are seldom talkative about which party they might vote for eventually. Communist regimes are known for the violent backlash when the electorate seems to be slipping away and hence, voters are often tightlipped.
Often, pollsters on the ground may sense communist regimes or close twins like TMC retaining power in most seats, but the reality on counting day could vary drastically.
In West Bengal, that is exactly what happened when the Communists were thrown out and TMC swept the polls.
In 2006 Assembly Elections, The Communists won 176 seats out of the 212 they contested. The Left Front together managed to bag 233 seats. A brute majority that would appear insurmountable and undefeatable.
In 2011 Assembly Elections, the tables turned in the blink of an eye. Within the 5 years, the Left Front had been routed. TMC in 2011 ended up winning 190 seats (184 + 6 by-polls) and along with Congress, the alliance bagged 226 seats leaving the Left Front at 62.
In 2016 Assembly elections, TMC alone won 211 seats. The 2014 Lok Sabha elections too saw a brute majority of Mamata’s TMC.
Tripura and West Bengal both have been Communist bastions for decades with similar voting patterns. Both states are acutely politically aware and political conversation and debate is a part and parcel of not just dinner table conversation but also “chai sutta” debate. One sees scores of people, young and old, assemble at tea stalls to discuss the political turmoil in the country. And both states shift their vote en masse without so much as a warning. The people of these states generally ensure tyrannical regimes for decades when one morning, they simply wake up and say ‘enough is enough’. That is exactly what happened in Tripura when the Communists were thrown out of power, and that is exactly what happened in Bengal when TMC was elected with a brute majority.
However, signs of trouble for Mamata Banerjee have started emerging and given the state’s history, no pollster can accurately predict when the signs of trouble might turn into sounds of doom.
Opinion Polls for West Bengal in the run-up for 2019 Lok Sabha elections have been rather positive for the BJP.
The highest number of seats being given to NDA in West Bengal is by Jann Ki Baat polls. They give NDA 13 seats in their opinion poll which was telecast on Republic TV on 5th April 2019 only days before the first phase of polling. Even the earlier opinion polls give NDA anywhere between 7 to 9 seats. In 2014 Lok Sabha Elections, TMC bagged 36 seats and according to Jann Ki Baat, is set to bag 25 seats now.
These numbers should ring alarm bells for TMC. Pollsters are often off-the-mark by a few seats in West Bengal and Tripura because voters refuse to be vocal about their preferences due to fear of backlash.
If pollsters predict a cumulative lowest of 7 seats and highest of 13, it would not be outlandish if BJP expects to win anywhere between 15 to 18 seats.
A number like that is worrisome for TMC because assembly elections are still 2 years away and that gives BJP plenty of time to dethrone Mamata just like she dethroned the Communists.
Mamata Banerjee came to power on the plank of ‘Maa, Maati, Maanush’ (Mother, Soil, Citizens). That plank, many feel, has been betrayed by her blatant Muslim appeasement and disregard for the Bengali Hindu population.
With a massive upswing in 2019 Lok Sabha Elections, BJP is poised to pull off a political coup in West Bengal. The only question now is: How would Mamata Banerjee react?