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TMC vs BJP: Why the contest is wide open in West Bengal

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New Delhi, Jan 01: In the high-octane West Bengal assembly elections slated to be held later this year, the Bharatiya Janata Party has emerged as the main rival to the formidable rival in the state - Mamata Banerjee.

Flashpoints in West Bengal politics were one too many, as the state hogged national limelight for all the wrong reasons and witnessed widespread political violence, as the parties geared up for a high-stakes assembly elections.

TMC vs BJP: Why the contest is wide open in West Bengal

The BJP has claimed that more than 130 of its cadres were killed or found dead under mysterious circumstances, since the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

Mamata Banerjee VS BJP

The TMC government routinely sparred with the BJP-led Centre and the slugfest spared practically no one, including the saffron party''s president J P Nadda, whose convoy came under attack earlier in December during his visit to Diamond Harbour in South 24 Parganas.

The Home Ministry summoned three IPS officers to serve at the Centre on deputation over alleged lapses which led to the attack on Nadda, leaving Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee fuming. Several BJP leaders sustained injuries in the attack.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah and the BJP went hammer and tongs against the state government over the "worsening" law and order situation, and the saffron party shifted a battery of its central leaders to the eastern state with an eye on the assembly polls.

Does BJP stand a chance?

The Bharatiya Janata Party which has never been in power in the state, has made inroads by winning 18 of the 42 seats in West Bengal in 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The saffron parties vote share increased to 40.64 percent from 10.16 percent in 2016 when it won only 3 seats.

The result was a a morale booster for the party leaders, who now claim that the Saffron party will end didi's decade long rule in the politically polarised state in Assembly polls.

Meanwhile, Union Minister Amit Shah was in the state recently on a two-day visit to take stock of the party affairs addressed a huge crowd where he claimed that the party will form the next government in the state. "People of West Bengal are "angry" with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and want a change," he said.

Shah announced an ambitious target of winning more than 200 of the state''s 294 assembly seats, an assertion which drew a sharp retort from the TMC''s adviser and poll strategist Prashant Kishor, who said the BJP will struggle to cross double digits.

The BJP is apprehensive that the delay in implementing the CAA due to agitations by its rivals may turn refugee voters, especially those from the Matua community, against it.

The BJP, in its bid to blunt the TMC''s election weapon of sub-nationalism, took to eulogising Bengali icons such as Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, Swami Vivekananda and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar.

The 'Bengai Pride'

Pushed to the wall by the aggressive Hindutva campaign by the BJP, Banerjee and her TMC invoked ''Bengali pride'' to consolidate its support base.

The Mamata Banerjee government launched a massive public outreach in December to ensure the benefits of its 11 flagship welfare programmes reached every household.

Christened "Duare Sarkar" (government at doorsteps), the programme covers 11 sectors including employment generation, health, women''s empowerment, community development and girl education, among others.

Rebellion within TMC

The ruling party, for the first time since it came to power in 2011, witnessed a rebellion as several MLAs and an MP, including party heavyweight Mukul Roy and Suvendu Adhikari crossed over to the BJP. The TMC, however, put up a brave face and said it was finally free of "traitors".

Defection of a number of TMC leaders has energised the BJP cadres, with Shah seen to driving the party's campaign in the state. As the new year dawns, the Bengal results will go a long way in deciding the course of national politics in 2021.

The Bimal Gurung factor

Meanwhile, North Bengal, where the BJP made deep roads, bagging seven of the eight Lok Sabha seats in 2019, witnessed a political churning as the GJM faction led by fugitive Gurkha leader Bimal Gurung quit the BJP-led NDA and joined hands with the TMC.

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    Gurung, who was in hiding for three years, returned to Darjeeling and vowed to teach the BJP a lesson by ensuring TMC''s victory in North Bengal, where he wields influence over at least 20 assembly seats.

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