Kolkata: As BJP’s juggernaut moves from the colder climes of Darjeeling or ‘Dorj-Ling’ (thunderbolt) to the various parts of West Bengal in East, West and in South, Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is now eyeing ‘North Bengal’ as the region has became a nightmare for her following TMC’s devastated performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha Polls.
Out of eight Lok Sabha seats, including Cooch Behar, Alipurduar, Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling, Raigunj, Balurghat, North Malda and South Malda, Banerjee failed to win even a single seat as seven of the eight seats went to BJP and Malda South was secured by legend (late) Ghani Khan Chowdhury’s brother Abu Hasem Khan Chowdhury (Congress), popularly known as ‘Dalu da’.
In Malda North, BJP’s Khagen Murmu defeated sitting MP Mausam Noor (former Congress MP but fought last Lok Sabha on TMC ticket), while in Malda South ‘Dalu da’ won the seat by defeating BJP’s Sreerupa Mitra Chaudhury. The TMC’s Md Moazzem Hossain stood third with 27.47 vote share.
In rest of the seats, BJP’s Nisith Pramanik, John Barla, Jayanta Kumar Ray, Raju Singh Bisht, Deboshree Chaudhary, Sukanta Majumdar and Khagen Murmu had sent shock waves in the TMC camp by winning Cooch Behar, Alipurduar, Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling, Raiganj, Balurghat and North Malda, respectively, in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
The BJP has grown exponentially in North Bengal and Banerjee has decided to go for a major organisational reshuffle to iron out the faction feud in the party before the next Assembly polls in 2021.
Struggling with the internal feud between the old guard and young upcoming leaders, Banerjee had many times warned party leaders to iron out internal rift and, in a recent video conference with the party leaders, had expressed her helplessness to go for a massive reshuffle by bringing new face to strengthen the party ahead of the state polls.
Political expert Kapil Thakur feels that besides Purulia, winning North 24-Parganas and Jungalmahal (where TMC is believed to be losing its grip) in North Bengal will be the mother of all battles as they consists of 54 assembly seats out of total 294 seats in Bengal and TMC’s fate will be decided by how the party fares in this region.
“You must have noticed how Banerjee has already started playing her community cards over Rajbonshi or Kamtapuri community. Sometimes she plays the card of Anukulchandra (a spiritual leader born in Bangladesh and the founder of Satsang) and sometimes she plays her Matua card. This is nothing new in Bengal as most of the political parties try to woo Rajbonshi, which is a deciding factor in North Bengal in any polls,” Thakur said.
With more than 30 percent vote share, Rajbonshi are undeniably a deciding factor in polls. They were detrimental during the Left rule till Banerjee came to power in 2011. Now, Rajbonshi have favoured the BJP which led to devastated poll results of the TMC in the last Lok Sabha polls.
Banerjee knows it well that any significant division in the Rajbonshi vote share could jeopardise her mission ‘Ekush’ (2021 Assembly polls).
BJP MP from Alipurduar, John Barla, said, “Recently, Banerjee in her press conference raised the issue related to VC of Panchanan Barma (a Rajbanshi leader and reformer from Cooch Behar who died in 1935) University and Indian heptathlete Swapna Barman. The Panchanan Barma University V-C was show-caused by our governor (which was later withdrawn and the VC was left with a warning) and our chief minister immediately played her political card by saying the governor not only insulted the V-C but also Panchanan Barma who is the pride of the Rajbonshi community.”
He added, “She also took the side of heptathlete Swapna Barman (in connection with possession of illegal timber) only for her political mileage among the Rajbonshi community. Banerjee has been doing this for years but she will never be able to win the confidence of Rajbonshi and other community people in North Bengal because she has done nothing for their welfare. As far as BJP’s popularity is concerned, I would like to give you a simple example — in last Lok Sabha we have failed to give agents at various booths but despite that we won seven seats out of eight.”
Talking about the nearly 27 to 29 per cent Muslim votes in North Bengal (which is equally a big factor in terms of polling), he said, “Even Muslims voters have realised that there is no future in TMC. Majority of them now coalesced towards the BJP and not only we will win all the seats in North Bengal, we are going to form the government in Bengal in 2021. If a free and fair election happens, we are going to win all the 54 Assembly seats this time and no one can stop us.”
Muslim voters in North Bengal have always became a problem for the ruling TMC due to the internal rift in the party and it affected their polarising poll strategy (Muslim votes) and also due to Congress’ good hold on a sizeable Muslim voters (which is going against the TMC and favouring the BJP).
In the 2016 Assembly, BJP’s vote share was 10.2 per cent and in the 2019 Lok Sabha it went up to 40.3 per cent. There was an increase of 30.1 per cent vote share mainly because of Hindus coalescing towards the BJP. In the last three years, BJP managed to cultivate religious driven politics in Bengal and it was evident with its significant rise in Bengal in terms of its vote share.
Statistics show that from 2011 Assembly to 2016 Assembly polls Left Front has lost its vote share by 9.88 per cent and from 2014 Lok Sabha to 2019 Lok Sabha its vote share further plummeted to nearly 16 per cent.
However, Congress vote share from 2011 to 2016 Assembly increased from 8.91 per cent to 12.3 percent but it fell drastically in 2014 Lok Sabha (9.6 %) while in 2019 general elections the party managed to secure only 5 per cent votes.
Speaking to News18, state tourism minister Gautam Deb said, “It’s advantage TMC because BJP does not have any chief ministerial face in Bengal. People in Bengal usually don’t opt for a faceless party – especially in assembly polls. We have really worked hard in North Bengal under the leadership of Mamata Banerjee and we are sure to get a good number of seats in the coming polls.”
“Besides issues such as NRC, CAA and COVID-19, problems faced by migrant workers will be major factors this time. There will be new challenges while organising virtual meetings and campaigning but I am sure people will vote for the TMC without any doubt,” he added.
The significance of North Bengal for BJP and TMC was for all to see when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and CM Mamata Banerjee blew the Lok Sabha poll bugle on the same day on April 3, 2019.
Modi addressed two back-to-back rallies in Siliguri near Jalpaiguri Railway Station. Same day, Banerjee – one of vocal critics of PM Modi government –addressed a public meet in Dinhata in Cooch Behar (where the first phase of polling was held on April 11, 2019).
On April 4-5, Banerjee ddressed public rallies in Mathabhanga (in Cooch Behar) and in Nagrakata in Jalpaiguri.
In March 2020, Mamata selectively picked Malda (in North Bengal) for her mega interactive session with more than 80,000 party workers. The reason was Malda (both South and North) with nearly 50 per cent Muslim population. Trinamool has never won any seats in the region till date, except that after the 2016 assembly polls, four MLAs shifted to the party, including one independent, one from the CPI (M) and two from the Congress.
Banerjee knows that North Bengal could be crucial and will hold the key in taking TMC’s tally up or down while keeping in mind that the region (North Bengal) helped BJP to increase its tally from two to 18 seats in the last Lok Sabha polls.