The West Bengal Assembly elections kicked off on Monday (April 4) when 18 seats in the Maoist-infested Jangalmahal area went to the polls. The seven-phase election in the state this time has become unique for a number of reasons even as the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress faces its first anti-incumbency challenge.
This is the first time that an election in Bengal has seen corruption as a major issue. It is also for the first time that two traditional foes like the Congress and CPI(M) have reached an electoral understanding against the TMC. The media in the state has also been playing a pro-active role ahead of this election, with some taking a stand completely opposite to what it was in 2011. This is also the first time that Mamata Banerjee's honest image has come under a lot of duress, thanks to allegations of corruption made against the leaders of her party.
The election will conclude on May 5 and the results will come out on May 16. West Bengal has a total of 294 Assembly seats.
This is perhaps the first time since independence that corruption has become a major issue in the election in this state. Thanks to issues like Saradha chit-fund scam and the ongoing Narada sting operation issues, the ruling TMC has come under a lot of pressure. Even the honest image of supremo and CM Mamata Banerjee is finding it difficult to shield the accused party leaders against so many charges.
Left-Congress electoral understanding
This is another unique development Bengal's election has seen this year. The CPI(M) and the Congress have been known to be traditional rivals in the state. But this time, the state leadership of both parties have defied all odds, even the initial hesitation from their central leaders, to come together to defeat Mamata Banerjee's TMC.
The media is also playing a critical role in this election in West Bengal. There are channels that are playing a role which is completely opposite to what it was in 2011 when Mamata Banerjee's TMC looked favourites to come to power. Opinion polls shown by various media houses have predicted different seat tally and vote share for the TMC and its Opposition, though all have predicted a TMC win.
Like in the past, TMC supremo and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is still the biggest leader in the state who can single-handedly influence the election outcomes. Despite the corruption charges against other TMC leaders, it is the sheer mass appeal of Mamata Banerjee which still keeps the ruling party ahead of the rest. She is also the first woman chief minister of the state who is facing the anti-incumbency. Can she beat it?
Bharatiya Janata Party
The BJP, although is a fringe player in Bengal politics, but is doing all it can to remain in the contention in this election. It has fielded candidates in all 294 seats, including celebrities like Rupa Ganguly and Locket Chatterjee. Its approach towards the TMC in this election has also been unique. It is attacking the ruling party in the open but is not showing an equal intent when it comes to going to the depths in probing the corruption charges against its leaders, MPs and ministers. The BJP is hoping to maintain the good show it had put up during the 2014 LS polls. Can it succeed?
Kolkata flyover collapse
Though a local incident, but the March 31 collapse of an under-construction flyover in North Kolkata just a few days ahead of the election made it a serious poll issue. All parties rushed to the spot where 24 people were killed in a man-made disaster and the ruling TMC found the anti-incumbency factor gaining more weight in the wake of this incident. Mamata Banerjee said the work on the bridge started during the Left's rule which shows how nervous her administration is now to take responsibility at this crucial juncture. Even Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi visited the spot and met accident victims in the hospital.
Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose
Since Bengalis have an emotional touch with Netaji, the iconic freedom fighter who mysteriously disappeared in 1945, the parties in power (TMC in state and BJP at Centre) did their best to cash in on this issue. Besides declassifying files on Netaji after the TMC govt did the same last year, the BJP also fielded Netaji's grand-nephew Chandra Bose (left) against Mamata Banerjee in Bhabanipur where Netaji's ancestral home is located. The strategy is simple: Restrict Mamata by using the weapon of nationalism.