West Bengal Assembly Elections 2016: Scenario, issues and key players

Who stands where in crucial 2016 West Bengal Assembly Polls?

West Bengal Assembly Elections 2016: Scenario, issues and key players

West Bengal Assembly elections 2016: Who stands where?

Scenario: It’s Mamata Vs BJP, Congress-CPI(M) electoral alliance

Trinamool Congress-ruled West Bengal is set to face what could well be its most aggressively fought Assembly election, with the BJP hoping to make a significant dent in Mamaa Banerjee’s bastion and the Congress and Left – the arch-rivals for decades – forging a formidable alliance to oust the firebrand leader from power.

In 2011, Mamata ‘Didi’, as she is fondly called by her supporters, led Trinamool Congress storm to power by putting an end to the 34-year-long Left rule led by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

If the 2011 elections were about Mamata Didi’s meteoric rise to power by overthrowing the seemingly 'invincible' Left, it's her opponents’ desperation to stay politically relevant and the grand alliance they have formed to defeat the TMC chief which has sprung more surprises this time.

Clearly, in West Bengal’s triangular contest, Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress is battling the joint salvo of the unofficial Left-Congress alliance on one hand, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the other.

However, with several pre-poll surveys predicting a comfortable victory for TMC, if not a landslide, ‘people’s Chief Minister’ Mamata Banerjee is less worried and supremely confident of repeating the 2011 show here again.

Hitting out at the Left and the Congress - the unlikeliest of political partners - who have joined forces against her, Mamata had termed the 2016 state assembly polls a fight between the "grand coalition of the people” and the “unprincipled, unethical coalition of the CPM-Congress".

While releasing the All India Trinamool Congress manifesto for the 2016 state assembly polls, Mamata Banerjee had harped on the development agenda while promising a “New Bengal ”if her party retains power in West Bengal.

Mamata has also promised to give utmost priority to creating improved rural and urban infrastructure, giving renewed push to the growth of industry, agriculture and empowerment of the jobless Bengali youth.

While announcing a “zero tolerance” policy towards crime, especially women, the Chief Minister had also vowed to continue to pursue a policy against forceful land acquisition – in an obvious reference to Singur farmers.

To ensure victory for TMC, Mamata Didi has picked up popular West Bengal figures such as Jagmohan Dalmiya’s daughter TMC, Mamata Didi has picked up popular West Bengal figures such as Jagmohan Dalmiya’s daughter Baishali (Bally seat), Baichung Bhutia (Siliguri constituency), footballer Rahim Nabi, cricketer Lakshmi Ratan Shukla as its choice for the decisive polls.

However, the controversial Narada sting video showing popular TMC leaders accepting bribes, conviction of her top leaders in multi-crore Sharadha Chitfund scam, rising corruption, crime rate in the state and the very recent Kolkata flyover collapse are likely to cast a shadow over Mamata Banerjee’s election campaign and also erode her popularity to some extent.

Congress-Left alliance in West Bengal

Even as political tie up between Congress and the Left struggles to find common grounds for a fight, its likely impact on the West Bengal polls is yet to be known. The two arch-enemies in politics for decades – the Congress and the Communists – have finally joined hands and reached a workable “understanding” in sharing seats in the West Bengal polls to put up a combined fight against the formidable Trinamool Congress.

For the moment, the two seem to have buried all the bitter animosity of the past to defeat what they call “despotic and autocratic” rule of the Trinamool Congress led by Mamata Banerjee.

After hectic parleys, the two sides have broadly agreed to field candidates in such a manner that it will try and limit the splitting of anti-TMC votes by giving just one candidate against the Trinamool Congress. Based on this formula, the Left Front is broadly contesting about 200 state assembly seats where the Congress will not field any candidate and the Congress is expected to fight about 80 seats where the Left will throw no contest.

For about 15 seats out of the total 294, the two could not arrive at a consensus after which both decided to have “friendly fights”.

The electoral arithmetic arising out of the grand alliance forged by the two sides will put their combined vote share way ahead of the Trinamool Congress in a large number of seats, particularly in North Bengal districts.

Similarly, in some South Bengal districts, the combined vote share of the Congress and the Left could be a cause for worry for the ruling TMC. About eight districts of South Bengal would account for about 65 assembly seats where the Congress-CPM alliance should be at an advantage. Also, at many seats in North and South 24-Parganas, the Congress-CPM combined vote share can be more than the Trinamool Congress. However, the impact of the Congress-CPI-M alliance is yet to be tested at the grassroot level.

Although worried, the Trinamool Congress is still confident that the “vote transfer” of Congress-CPM voters would not be as menacing as to cause any big upset. It might at best alter the outcome in about 20-25 seats, mostly in North Bengal.

More surprisingly, with a single-point agenda to oust the ruling Trinamool Congress government, the state unit of regional parties such as Janata Dal (United), Rashtriya Janata Dal and Janata Dal (Secular) have extended support to the CPM-Congress alliance, claiming that they are ready to sacrifice seats to defeat TMC.

BJP’s Bengal push: Less Modi rallies, no 'negative' campaign

For BJP, which is hoping to make a dent in Mamata's bastion, its main poster boy PM Narendra Modi and party chief Amit Shah will have limited rallies in Bengal this time.

Taking lessons from the Bihar rout in past, the BJP has decided to target Mamata and connect with the Ramakrishna and Gaudiya missions, which enjoy massive following in the state. By seeking to connect with the Gaudiya Math and Ramkrishna Mission, the BJP has played a “soft Hindutva” card and attempted to reach out to their combined following of around one crore Hindus.

As per the plan, West Bengal polls will not see the Prime Minister making a whirlwind tour of the state as he did during Bihar polls. He will address just seven to 10 rallies and refrain from a “negative” campaign - an apparent lesson drawn from the party's debacle in Bihar.

The election will be fought on what the party is offering to the state and what the Modi-led government has done so far at the Centre. By limiting the presence of its Central leaders, the party has decided to give more prominence to its state leaders.

The BJP will be vocal about the Trinamool Congress government’s “appeasement policies” for Muslims. Although the focus will be on the alleged failures of Mamata Banerjee’s government, the BJP's election campaign will also focus on issues such as corruption, the crisis-hit agrarian sector, hawkers' plight, women's safety, security of policemen etc.

The BJP has also prepared a list of unfulfilled promises made by Mamata, Mukul Roy and Dinesh Trivedi as railway ministers in the past. As in Bihar, the BJP will not project a chief ministerial candidate this time in West Bengal although it has fielded Netaji Subhas Chnadra Bose's grand nephew Chandra Bose against Mamata Banerjee.

West Bengal Assembly Elections 2016: What are the key poll issues?

As Bengal goes to the polls, the issue of corruption has taken center stage in the election campaign for the first time since Independence.That the issue of corruption has taken a center stage can be gauged from the fact election rallies and political wall writings have been marked with campaigns, slogans and counter slogans on corruption.

Development: For the Mamata Banerjee government, the development work carried out in TMC's five-year tenure is expected to serve as the main plank of the campaign. In her speeches too, Mamata Banerjee has highlighted the work done by the government. What does the BJP say? However, BJP is leaving no stone unturned to play its development card in a bid to boost its prospects in the polls. PM Narendra Modi in his poll speeches have promised that 'he will work for the welfare of the people, unlike Mamata Banerjee government'.

Sardha scam, Narada sting video row: Post Saradha scam in which lakhs of investors had been duped and Narada sting operation, which has purportedly shown some leaders of TMC accepting bribes, the issue of corruption has evolved as the main poll plank for the Congress-Left Front alliance, apart from "restoration of democracy" in TMC-ruled Bengal.

Mamata's promises: Moreover, Mamata Banerjee says that several development works are in progress and these schemes will continue if they are voted to power again. Several projects of the Mamata Banerjee government including her flagship programmes focusing on the girl child like Kanyashree or Sabuj Saathi in midway.

Banerjee in her speeches had said that her government has thousands of cycles for students of class 11 and 12 and class 9 and 10 would follow only after she had been voted back into power.

Also, at times, Mamata Banerjee says that Centre was responsible for not enough funds in West Bengal. Although, it's not that big as a poll issue.

Kolkata flyover collapse: The recent flyover collapse, which had claimed 26 lives, too has raised the issue of corruption on the state PWD department. Just a few days of the elections, the flyover tragedy became a major topic as most of the political parties reached the spot.

Elections in Bengal since Independence have always been fought on the basis of ideologies, policies of the government, restoring rights of the opposition parties, development, industrialization, unemployment and food security. But never before there have been large scale allegations of corruption against the present government.

Employment: Job creation has emerged as one of the major poll issues as a number of educated people are leaving West Bengal for bigger cities to secure jobs. BJP is trying to play employment card in order to reap maximum polls benefits as in West Bengal a major chunk of voters is youth, who seek job.

West Bengal Assembly Elections 2016: Who are the key players?

On April 19, fate of several candidates contesting the gigantic West Bengal Assembly election will get sealed for five years. Though there is no denying of the fact that it's a two-cornered fight between the TMC and the Congress-Left alliance, presence of the BJP can also not be ignored after seeing its 2014 LS polls performance.

Mamata Banerjee

Even before the poll bugle was sounded in the state, political pundits had prophesied that All India Trinamool Congress supremo and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee will continue to rule the state.

The 'Didi' of Bengal had created history of sorts when she had overthrown 34-year-old Left regime in 2011. It is being believed that she will once again thwart Leftists' aspirations to form government in West Bengal.

Going by the recently conducted opinion polls, Banerjee still enjoys the status of being the most popular CM candidate in the state.

Yet many, on the contrary, also opine that several factors may weaken Banerjee's position in the state, major one being Saradha chit fund case followed by Narada News sting, Malda violence and anti-incumbency.

It is now to be seen if she will be able to silence her critics by repeating her 2011 magic when she had won Bhabanipur assembly constituency bypoll with a 54,000-vote margin.

But, the situation is slightly different today. Mamata's supremacy in the state is now being challenged by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress-Left alliance.

Modi during his rally in the state went on to call her government 'Terror, Maut and Corruption ki Sarkar' and also blamed her for Kolkata flyover collapse.

However, what can also not be doubted is that under her leadership, TMC had won maximum Lok Sabha seats from the state despite the prevailing Modi wave across the country.

Surjya Kanta Mishra

A medical doctor by profession, Surjya Kanta Mishra is the face of CPI(M)-led Left Front in the poll-bound West Bengal.

After serving as a cabinet minister under Left Front government in Bengal, he became Leader of Opposition in 2011 when his party lost to TMC.

In 2015, Mishra rose to new heights and succeeded Biman Bose and was appointed as CPI(M)'s state secretary.

Speculations are rife that if Congress-Left alliance wins then Mishra will become the chief minister of the state.

Mishra, who has been quite vocal about his criticism of Mamata Banerjee, is confident that Congress-Left alliance will uproot TMC government in 2016 Assembly election.

The 67-year-old leader knows the ins and outs of West Bengal politics and has an hand on experience in governance too which may go in his favour.

Chandra Kumar Bose

What else could have been a better strategy of the BJP than to use Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose name to woo Bengal voters.

BJP, which is quite upbeat about improving its tally in the state, has fielded Netaji's grandnephew Chandra Kumar Bose to challenge Mamata Banerjee in 2016 Assembly elections.

At a time when mystery around Netaji's disappearance is a boiling issue nationwide, gambling on his name in the poll-bound state may turn fruitful for the party.

However, many in the TMC believe that his presence in the election would not make much difference to party's winning prospects as TMC MP Sugata Bose is also a name from Netaji's clan.

After studying economics from Hendrix College London in 1982, Chandra Kumar Bose had joined Tata Management Training Centre in Jamshedpur (Jharkhand). He soon returned to Kolkata as a marketing executive.

Though a BJP candidate, Bose is known for his secular credentials. Moreover, he is aggressively campaigning for the party in every nook and cranny.

During his campaigns, he has not shied away from attacking TMC.

However, apart from Banerjee, he has another tough rival in Congress' Deepa Dasmunsi too.

Rupa Ganguly

Celebrity factor has often gone in favour of the BJP. Be it Shatrughan Sinha, Hema Malini, Manoj Tewari or Babul Supriyo, BJP knows how to use stardom.

Following the same lines, BJP has now fielded actor-turned-politician Roopa Ganguly from Howrah North – a constituency which is presently held by TMC's Ashoke Ghosh.

Ganguly, who became a household name due to a character of Draupadi played by her in Mahabharata, heads the party’s women’s wing in West Bengal.

As per some reports, Ganguly was initially not quite happy with the constituency as she had preferred one in Kolkata, but succumbed to party pressure.

The party has repeatedly said that she is not only being seen as a candidate to add glamour quotient during the campaign, but also as someone who has leadership qualities.

Ganguly had aggressively carried out a 10-day march from Kamduni to Kakdwip in February with around 600 participants to protest "atrocities" on women in Bengal which earned her praises from all corners.

However, to counter her stardom, TMC has pitted Bengal cricket stalwart Laxmi Ratan Shukla against her.

It will be a tough fight to see between the duo.

Baichung Bhutia

Knowing that football appeals the youth of Bengal, TMC has cashed in on former Indian football star Baichung Bhutia.

The 39-year-old soccer icon will contest election from Siliguri against heavyweight CPI(M) leader and former state minister Ashok Bhattacharya.

With a good, clean image, Baichung has left the Opposition with very little ammunition to attack him.

Ever since he plunged into politics, the football star has been launching scathing attacks at the bigwigs of politics including Prime Minister Narenra Modi, accusing the later of breaking his promises.

However, star image alone may not prove enough to make him victorious as in 2014 Lok Sabha polls he had tasted humiliating defeat at the hands of BJP's SS Ahluwalia from Darjeeling constituency.

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