By the evening of Sunday, it will be clear whether a change has taken place in Bengal, or whether the people have given a verdict in favour of the continuation of the TMC rule. In the COVID era, the process of counting will be slow, and things will clear up probably only by late afternoon unless it is a one-sided verdict.
Both the TMC and the BJP have exuded confidence that they are coming to power by securing 200 seats out of 292. However, BJP insiders feel their party will fall short of 200 and may get about 180, which is a very comfortable majority. TMC insiders are not so confident, but they too believe they will somehow scrape through. The third Front (Congress, Left and ISF) partners however concede in private that they will be happy if they get 20 seats. They are hoping for a hung verdict so that they can stay relevant after the polls.
In fact, two factors have decided the verdict that is now sealed in the EVMs. One is the index of Hindu polarisation, and the other is the index of anti-TMC polarisation.
After a 10-year-long rule of TMC, there is definitely an undercurrent of anti-incumbency. It is, however, not directed against Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee so much. It is directed against the MPs, MLAs and ground-level leaders of the TMC. Even a section of those who think Mamata Banerjee’s social welfare projects and other developmental works are praiseworthy might have voted against the TMC because of corruption, favouritism and other amoral deeds of the party leaders. Some others might have voted for the BJP for sake of a faster pace of development, particularly rapid industrialisation.
These factors were there too in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections that saw an unusual 120 per cent jump in BJP’s vote-share compared to 2014 (it got 40.64 per cent votes while TMC secured 43.69). It fought well in two-thirds of the total constituencies (i.e. 28 out of 42), and won 18. Translating it to assembly wise divide, it was organisationally capable in near about 200 seats and got lead in 120. This time however its organisational capacity has increased and it is in the race for 250 constituencies out of 292. The rest 32 constituencies have a high level of Muslim concentration and the BJP does not have much chance of winning those.
What helped the BJP in 2019 is the polarisation of the anti-TMC vote towards it. Now the possibility is open in a wider geographical area. If the same trend of anti-TMC polarisation towards the BJP has existed this time too, it will give BJP a major boost. If not, it will be good news for the TMC as a division of votes between the two opposing camps always helps the ruling party.
Along with it, a Hindu polarisation towards the BJP has been reported this time by the media from all across Bengal. Now if the indexes of these two sorts of polarisation are high, BJP will secure a comfortable majority. If the indexes are moderate, it will be touch and go. If the indexes are low, then it will be an advantage of TMC.
(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)