West Bengal sends 42 members to the Lok Sabha, which is the joint third highest with Andhra Pradesh, after Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. In 2009, the Trinamool Congress (TMC), which was still in the opposition in the state, won 19 seats while its the then ally Congress won six seats. The Left Front managed 15 seats while one seat each went to the BJP and Socialist Unity Centre of India.
In terms of vote share, the Left bagged 43 per cent while the TMC-Congress alliance won 45 per cent. The BJP's vote share was six per cent.
This time, surveys say that the TMC is looking even more stronger. According to a survey conducted by the Delhi-based Centre of Study for Developing Societies (CSDS), the Mamata Banerjee-led party is set to win 20-28 seats in the Lok Sabha elections while the Left is likely to see a further decimation (it has been losing elections after elections in the state since 2008) with its tally coming down to between 7-13. The Congress's tally is predicted to be between five to nine while the BJP may end up between 0-4 seats.
In terms of vote share, the Left is set to witness a massive fall from 43% to 25% while the TMC's share is set to increase to 33% (from 31%) and the Congress's to 19% (from 14%). The BJP is also predicted to get 14% of the vote share, which is eight per cent more than what it had got in 2009.
Why Mamata looks favourite?
It is quite surprising for many that the current TMC government in West Bengal, despite drawing flak over various issues, be it unabated rapes or the death of college student or an on-duty policeman or targetting freedom of expression, is continuing to be the electoral favourites. Last year, there was a massive cheat fund bust in the state and members of the ruling party, including the chief minister and other ministers, were accused of having links with the scandal.
But yet, nothing significant happened in terms of the voting results and Mamata Banerjee continues to get stronger as the CSDS survey shows 60% feels she has done satisfactory job as the chief minister while 44% feels the TMC should come back to governance. In 2013, 50% people was happy with the TMC govrnment. Six months later, that figure has gone upto 55%. Why this is so?
Failure of the Left
The biggest reason is the failure of the Left Front to revive itself after the debacle of 2011 when it was thrown out of power in the state after 34 years. It was a shock that the ageing party hasn't succeeded to overcome, all the more because most of its main leaders, including former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had lost.
The party, which was once known for its unbeatable organisational machinery, is just a shadow of the past with most localised musclemen or cadres switching sides to the TMC.
This development has a prominent reason. As noted sociologist Dipankar Gupta says, the gap between the winner and loser in the rural parts of West Bengal were always gap because the winners took it all. When Left used to win, it was only Left, and now when the TMC is winning, it is all TMC. The influence of local musclemen and political thugs is the reason. This explanation is valid. Political colourisation is so distinct in Bengal, particularly the rural parts, that there is little resistance when one colour sweeps. Earlier, it was red, now it is green.
On the other hand, the urban middle-class, which is completely disillusioned today with an exhausted Left, finds there is no alternative to Banerjee today. The Congress is just another party in Bengal while the BJP has to go some miles still to emerge a potent foce. The improvement by eight per cent vote share for the BJP is a positive indication for the saffron party.
Mamata Banerjee as a factor
Besides the Left's failure, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee herself is another reason for the TMC's good fortunes. Banerjee is one of those mass leaders in the country who rose to prominence without a political backing that some of her contemporary leaders enjoyed.
Her struggle against a regimented party and its powerful government continued despite all hurdles and she has a massive following among the rural constituencies, which had witnessed decades of oppression by the Left and the women, who identify themselves with the leader's rise against oppression the best. The clean image and simple living have also been an asset of Banerjee.
As the nation looked towards Delhi, Mamata Banerjee used the time to settle down
The urban electorate and the local media, mostly based in Kolkata, have been critical of her governance and arrogant statements when under pressure but Banerjee has been able to narrow down that deficit over the last six-seven months when she was much quiet in her conduct. As the likes of Arvind Kejriwal, Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi occupied the maximum space in the national media, regional satraps like Banerjee used the time to settle down.
The chief minister has also focussed on improving city infrastructure and industrialisation in Bengal (she even replaced the concerned minister) and most importantly, has sharpened her skill of giving a human touch to influence the local celebrities. This is something which has helped Banerjee's administration eclipse its failure to curb sexual crimes in the state. Banerjee as a 'sensitive human being' has prevailed over Banerjee as an 'insensitive administrator'.
With 20-28 seats in her kitty, Mamata Banerjee is set to emerge as a major player in the 16th Lok Sabha. Whether she tilts towards Narendra Modi or chooses a federal front, will be interesting to see.