Why The Penultimate Phase Of Voting In West Bengal Is So Significant

West Bengal: Paramilitary personnel stands guard as voters stand in a queue showing their Voter-IDs to cast vote during the second phase of the West Bengal Assembly election. at Nandigram in East Midnapore. (ANI File Photo)

This Monday, West Bengal will see polling in the traditional Muslim heartland along with its periphery. This election is crucial for the TMC if it has to stay alive in the race for power. But, while a rejuvenated Congress-Left-ISF alliance is eyeing its Muslim vote-bank, the BJP is walking extra miles to wean away from the Hindus from its fold.

The constituencies scheduled to go to the polls on Monday originally was 36. But elections in two constituencies have been countermanded due to the death of the candidates. The political statistics of the constituencies, 14 of which are Muslim-majority constituencies, throw up a picture that is similar to the general one of Bengal. The landscape has changed entirely from 2016 to 2019.

Polls will be held in the districts of Murshidabad (11), Paschim Bardhaman (9), Malda (6) Dakshin Dinajpur (6) and Kolkata (4).

Except for Kolkata, the rest of the districts fall in the central region of Bengal. Malda and Murshidabad are Muslim majority districts. Dakshin Dinajpur and Paschim Bardhaman are at the periphery of this zone.

In 2016, out of 36, the TMC got 14 with 37 per cent vote share, and the Congress-Left combine 22 with 44 per cent, while the BJP drew a blank with 19 per cent. Three years later, during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, TMC got the lead in 16 seats with 39 per cent votes and the BJP also in 16 seats with 37 per cent votes.

The Left and the Congress that did not contest the election jointly managed lead only in 4 seats with 21 per cent votes. It is said that in 2019 while the Hindus polarised towards the BJP, the Muslims did the same towards the TMC.

An analysis of the pattern of voting in this region provides us insight on two counts. Firstly, even in 2016, BJP bagged 19 per cent of votes while the state-wise vote share was 10 per cent. Its votes were concentrated in Hindu areas. The process gained huge momentum in 2019, and if it has acquired further momentum now, it will give BJP a big advantage on Monday.

The second factor is that like in 2016 the Left and the Congress have formed a Morcha again, and have taken a ‘Muslim Party’ ISF in its fold. So, they too have become an alternative in the Muslim dominated areas. This division in Muslim votes may work in BJP’s advantage. The BJP, which has some Muslim leaders in their fold in this region, also expect a small share of Muslim votes. The TMC is aware of the situation and is trying to stop the division of Muslim votes by describing Abbas Siddique, the founder of ISF, as an agent of the BJP.

The situation is particularly tense in Murshidabad where all the three sides are going strong. It has to be seen whether the day of the polls pass peacefully or not.

(The author Diptendra Raychaudhuri is a senior journalist based in Kolkata. He has a wide range of experience in covering West Bengal politics and has authored several books)

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