The drumbeats for West Bengal assembly elections have begun with Mamata Banerjee releasing her list of all 291 Trinamool candidates on Friday. She left three seats in the Darjeeling region for both the factions of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, her new ally. The Trinamool supremo has taken up the BJP’s challenge thrown at her to contest from Nandigram only. A battle royale is going to take place between her and BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari. Mamata has decided not to contest from her home turf, Bhawanipur in South Kolkata, and decided to field her trusted aide Sovandeb Chattopadhyay.
At the press conference, where she released the list, Mamata said, “Khela hobey, dekha hobey, Jeta hobey” (the match is on, we will meet, we will win). She went to the extent of challenging the Election Commission to conduct the assembly polls in 294 phases, one phase for each seat, and said, “yet we will win”.
“Let Amit Shah bring all the forces from Kashmir to Kanyakumari here, the people of Bengal will elect us with a thumping majority”, said the Trinamool supremo, who is facing a tough battle from the BJP juggernaut, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi scheduled to launch the poll campaign on Sunday from Kolkata’s Brigade Parade ground. Actor Mithun Chakraborty is expected to join the party at this rally.
Hyping up her “only Bengali’ narrative, Mamata Banerjee said, “only Bengalis will rule the people of Bengal, we will not allow outsiders to rule us”. She alleged that there were several “Constitutional authorities” like ministers and deputy chief ministers, who are bringing in and distributing cash in Bengal.
“I warn them to leave or we will take action”, she added.
The list comprises 50 women candidates, many of them new faces and are mostly from the Tollywood film industry. They include Sayantika Banerjee, Koushani Mukherjee, Saayoni Ghosh, June Maliah, kirtan singer Aditi Munshi, director Raj Chakraborty, actors Kanchan Mullick and Soham Chakraborty, former cricketer Manoj Tiwary and former footballer Bidesh Bose.
One-third of the candidates are either Muslim or women. Mamata Banerjee has given tickets to 42 Muslim candidates, which is lower compared to last time. 79 SC and 17 ST candidates have been fielded by the party.
While releasing the list, though Mamata Banerjee put up a brave face and claimed that her party would retain power, the fact remains that more than a dozen TMC MLAs, including two ministers, have left her party and have joined the BJP. With trusted loyalists like Suvendu Adhikari and Rajiv Banerjee gone, Trinamool workers are a demoralized lot in these constituencies.
A day after Suvendu Adhikari quit, Mamata announced that she would contest from Suvendu’s borough Nandigram. BJP state chief Dilip Ghosh challenged Mamata to contest only from Nandigram. Ghosh said Suvendu would defeat Mamata by a margin of 50,000 votes. On Friday, Mamata said, she has fulfilled her promise and has now accepted the challenge.
Already, Mamata has chalked up her schedule. She left for Siliguri on Saturday, where she will lead a ‘cylinder rally’ on Sunday. This will be followed by a women’s rally on Women’s Day, she would return to Kolkata and would go to Haldia to file her nomination from Nandigram on March 10. After celebrating Mahashivratri the next day, Mamata will launch her statewide campaign from March 13. She will be addressing more than 120 election meetings.
Mamata faces a twin challenge: she has to keep her Muslim vote bank intact and stop Hindu Bengali voters from leaving her fold. The Congress and Left Front are stitching a tie-up with Furfura Sharif’s Peerzada Abbas Siddiqui’s new party to dent Mamata’s Muslim vote bank. On Friday, when a reporter mentioned Abbas Siddiqui’s name, Mamata cut her short and said she doesn’t want to hear his name.
At the press conference, Mamata listed out the developmental work her government had done for Hindu temples, like the skyways built at Kolkata’s Kalighat and Belur Math. Mamata is now taking utmost care of Hindu voters, to counter the hi-decibel BJP campaign of minorities’ appeasement against her.
The Bengali Muslim voters, even in Furfura Sharif, are divided on whether to support or oppose Mamata. According to the 2011 census, Muslims in West Bengal number 2.46 crore, which by now may have increased to two and a half crore. This constitutes more than 27 per cent of the state population. Mamata’s TMC scored two consecutive victories in Bengal with the support of Muslim voters, who have the power to decide the results in as many as 100 constituencies.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won 18 LS seats and the TMC had to suffer losses in 12 LS seats, but Mamata’s party secured 43 per cent votes, which was five per cent more compared to the previous 2014 LS elections. In the last 2016 assembly elections, TMC dominated and won in as many as 90 constituencies because of the support of Muslim voters. These included 65 seats where the Muslim percentage was more than 40 pc. The TMC won 60 out of these 65 seats.
Clearly, at that time, Mamata was the first choice for most Muslim voters. But this was at the time when the Muslim vote bank was intact. The average Muslim voter in Bengal had no other option, but now Peerzada Abbas Siddiqui has joined hands with the Left Front and Congress, and there appears to be a major crack in this vote bank. In next month’s elections, the Muslim voters will prefer to vote for candidates who have the best chance to defeat the BJP. At the moment, Mamata has a strong footing as the battle appears to be heading towards a straight contest between Mamata and the BJP.
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