If one goes by the opinion polls, it’s certain that Mamata Banerjee is all set to rule the state of West Bengal for the second term. However, having said that, there is no denying the fact that this time she is facing an uphill task to retain power. And that’s not entirely because erstwhile adversaries, Congress and Left, are trying to put up a united effort to dislodge TMC, but also because of the tough security arrangement, as well as the poll schedule, announced by the Election Commission. This has upset the TMC leadership.
This is for the first time that Election Commission has announced a staggering six phase poll schedule to be held on seven different days. The total duration stretches for nearly one month, starting from 4th April till the scorching heat of 16th May. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee wasted no time. Within half an hour of the announcement of the election schedule, she held a press conference and announced the entire candidate list for the 294 assembly constituencies in the State going for the polls. Never to miss a chance to take a pot-shot on whomsoever she deems fit, she described the attitude of the Election Commission as “political conspiracy” against Bengal. Nobody missed the fact that she wanted to create a sympathy wave for herself by playing the victim card. Her argument was that the Election Commission has shown a step-motherly attitude towards Bengal by announcing a seven days poll when Tamilnadu with 234 seats and Assam with 126 seats have a two day schedule.
Expressing displeasure, she vowed to fight the election with ‘mahajot’ of people. While announcing the poll schedule, Chief Election Commissioner Dr. Nasim Zaidi made it clear that that going by the past history of electoral violence in the state, they had to announce a long election schedule. It was the only way to assure that it ends as a free and fair poll.
The TMC supremo did not buy that argument. Rather, she took this opportunity to convert this long election schedule into a political issue by attributing it to the so-called “unholy conspiracy of Congress-Left and BJP’. Mamata started her election campaign immediately after the announcement of the poll schedule lest the opportunity should go waste.
But one thing is clear that in poll preparedness, TMC led by Mamata Banerjee is far ahead than other parties contesting the poll, including BJP, Congress and the Left Alliance. Immediately after poll announcement, as mentioned above, TMC released the list of its candidates. Most of the TMC candidates, who had contested 2011 assembly elections, have got nominations this time too. This also pretty much buried any speculation of going for the alliance with any party. In 2011, Trinamool Congress and Congress had fought the assembly polls jointly. But this time Congress is trying to strike an alliance with the CPM-led Left Front.
In 2011, Trinamool Congress alone won 184 of the total 294 seats in the state assembly. This time, it sprung a surprise by fielding some ‘star’ candidates such as former Indian football team captain Baichung Bhutia and popular football player Rahim Nobi. The party also fielded former Indian cricket team member Lakshmi Rattan Shukla and Tollywood actor Sohom Chatterjee. However, not everything is hunky dory as she is drawing flack from the opposition for fielding Sarda Chitfund scam tainted former state minister Madan Mitra, who is cooling his heels in jail. Her list of candidates comprises an increased number of women and minority community candidates. West Bengal has a higher percentage of Muslims than any other state except Jammu & Kashmir. She left no stone unturned by roping in former firebrand CMP leader Rezzak Molla and a local influential leader of the minority community Siddiqullah, who played a crucial role during the days of the Singur and Nandigram movement.
Interestingly, she has also fielded candidates from Darjeeling for the first time, thereby challenging the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha that is a cardinal force in the hill region. Rebel GJM leaders Harka Bahadur Chetri and Shanta Kumar will be contesting from two hill constituencies of Kalimpong and Kurseong respectively as Trinamool candidates. She also fielded Baishali, the daughter of the former BCCI president late Jagmohon Dalmiya, from Bally Assembly Seat.
After the list was announced, Mamata Banerjee wasted no time and started her election campaign on a high pitch from the Congress and Left strongholds of Murshidabad and Malda. This is for the first time that erstwhile political adversaries, Congress and the Left led by CPM, are trying to come to an understanding of seat adjustment. However, they seem to have lost the initiative to Mamata Banerjee, who is already on with the campaign and drawing large crowds. In a well calculated strategy, Mamata started her campaign in Congress and Left bastion in order to expose the so-called “unholy” alliance. She plans to create confusion among the grassroots workers of both the parties who had always been at each other’s throat in the past. Will this strategy work for Trinamool, or will this high pitch campaign strategy backfire, is yet to be seen.
However, what is sure is that it will be a mammoth task in front of the Left Parties and Congress to energise its workers together and bring them out in huge numbers to counter Mamata’s already buoyant cadres. Until the election is micro-managed, it will be extremely tough for the alliance to unseat Mamata. There will always be the fear of ending up as nothing more than a nuisance factor.