Is the long duration of Bengal election 2016 hurting Mamata Banerjee?
West Bengal is in the middle of a high-voltage election battle. The fourth of the seven-phase election got over on Thursday (April 21) and it has been the most violent so far as three lives were lost during and after the polling concluded.
TMC has 85 of 102 seats in and around Kolkata
The remaining three phases will see polling in another 127 seats of which 102 are located in and around Kolkata. The ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) won 85 of these seats (a staggering 83 per cent) in 2011 and it was its sweep in South Bengal which laid the base for its historic victory (the party had 99 of the remaining 167 seats which makes it just 59 per cent). [This Bengal election has become a bhadrolok vs 'chhotolok' contest]
The Mamata Banerjee wave swept away the then Left Front regime in the urban centres since the latter lost faith of the electorate mainly in terms of stagnant industrialisation and scarcity of jobs.
TMC will be desperate to save its base which is South Bengal
Now, it is the TMC which is at the receiving end. Bengal hasn't moved an inch ahead in industrialisation despite the big claims and land banks, the brain drain has continued and also farmers in Singur, a project which everybody had hoped would usher in a new era of industrialisation but failed miserably, are struggling to meet their days' need. [4 reasons why BJP will never want Mamata to lose]
On the top of it, the corruption charges in Saradha chit fund scam and Narada sting operation have left the TMC leadership more than worried since these issues generally make an impact on urban voters. Banerjee's shaky images at various rallies of late make it amply clear that she is extremely worried over protecting her base in South Bengal where former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee recently led a huge rally comprising supporters of the Left and the Congress.
But the long election has put its limited leadership and organisation under stress
The TMC might be ruing the fact that the ongoing election is far too long (from April 4 to May 5) for it to manage successfully. The party supremo is its only face to show and she has been criss-crossing the state to canvass support for her candidates who have little significance of their own. This weak machinery has exposed the ruling party in the face of a series of charges of corruption and even its almighty supremo is struggling to keep pace with the fast eroding trust. [BJP's same anti-Mamata speeches are tiring]
The TMC's hold in central and northern parts of the state is still not strong enough and with the two most powerful forces in these parts--the Left and Congress---joining hands this time, the ruling party is at an even bigger disadvantage to influence things in its favour. Instances like deaths in poll violence, as it was seen yesterday in the notorius Domkol constituency in Murshidabad yesterday, will add more to the TMC's woes even if it is not a traditionally strong player in that district. [Why Murshidabad fight is interesting in this election]
Moreover, with Mamata Banerjee declaring an indirect war on the Election Commission, which has taken the Bengal election this year very seriously, there is very little chance of any cooperation between the state government and the poll panel to jointly deal with such menace. And it is Banerjee who will lose more face than the EC since she is in charge of the state.
Internal dissent, external attack, conflict with EC, hostile media, corruption charges --- Mamata has too much to tackle
This lack of credible faces and a weaker organisation on the ground (compared to the Left in its heydays) have challenged the TMC to survive this one month of election. The party's internal dissent has come out in the open in the wake of the Narada sting operation accusing top leaders of the party accepting bribe, the opponents have been attacking Banerjee and her party unsparingly and the media and the Election Commission are also carrying out their responsibilities over-enthusiastically.
Together, they have put Banerjee's honest image under an immense pressure. And since that is the only political asset the TMC has, the relentless pressure on it in this long election has pushed it to a point of breaking apart.
It was not without a reason that Mamata was upset with the 7-phase poll on March 4
It was not without a reason hence that Banerjee was upset when the EC declared a six-phase (actually seven) election for Bengal on March 4. On the face, she said while all other states were going to one or two-phase polling at the most, Bengal was being unjustly treated and was made to go through a seven-phase poll. Banerjee knew very well that the longer the poll time is stretched, the more challenging will it for her one-woman party to tackle the threats. In 2011 also it was a multi-phase election but after five years, Banerjee has a lot to lose.