Kolkata: With the announcement of election dates on February 26, we entered Bengal. We started from Delhi, passed through Varanasi and Bodh Gaya and finally crossed Jharkhand border to reach Asansol. Our coverage of West Bengal elections started here. My cameraman and I boarded a bus to Durgapur and we started talking to people about the elections. Most people on the bus said that the elections seemed to be a 50-50 affair and that anything can happen. After this, we traveled on a bus from Hooghly to Howrah. Most people either avoided the question or appeared to be ‘playing’ safe when asked to predict the outcome by saying it’s a 50-50 contest. In the initial days, there were only a few people who spoke of ‘change’. Some even said that Mamata ‘didi’ will win again as she has done a lot of work for the poor and women.
We reached Kolkata on February 28, the same day the grand alliance of Congress and CPM conducted a rally in Kolkata. The huge crowd turnout gave impetus to the existence of the Third Front in the Bengal elections. But as the elections progressed, the Third Front faded away.
After this, I went to Murshidabad, Malda, Dinajpur, and Siliguri. People everywhere except Murshidabad said that there is a tight race between BJP and TMC and the contest is 50-50. On 7 March, Prime Minister Modi held his first rally at the Brigade Ground in Kolkata. To make sure that the contest doesn’t go entirely in favour of the BJP, Mamata Banerjee held a roadshow in Siliguri at the same time. On one hand, Prime Minister Modi launched a sharp attack on Mamata Didi and her government, while on the other, Mamata also targeted the Prime Minister fiercely. Here as well, everyone we talked to, was saying that the contest is 50-50 and that it was going to be a tough battle.
After this we reached Nandigram. Mamata Banerjee came here to file her nomination on March 10. Again, we asked people about their opinion and again, we got the same answer – the fight is tough, “bolte parbo na” (can’t say anything). When I spoke to some local journalists, they said that whoever wins will win by a margin of 5 to 10 thousand only. That is, here too, the case was 50 -50. But by the evening of election day, it seemed that Suvendu Adhikari was likely to trump Banerjee here. On Twitter, I wrote that based on my reporting all day, I can say that Mamata Banerjee committed a mistake by contesting from Nandigram. But some of my colleagues said that anything can happen here. I believe both have an equal shot at winning.
In the first two phases, it seemed clear that be it Purulia, Bankura, Jhargram or West and East Midnapore, BJP has taken a good lead over TMC. Out of the 60 seats in both the phases, BJP and Amit Shah claimed victory on over 50 seats. In a conversation with Zee News, Home Minister Amit Shah said that we are winning over 200 seats and the BJP president told Zee News that a tsunami is going on in favour of BJP in Bengal. Prime Minister Modi even spoke of the BJP government's swearing-in ceremony at the Tarakeswar rally. At this, Mamata Banerjee took a jibe at the Prime Minister saying is he God that he has come to know the results beforehand.
TMC and Mamata Banerjee's team were confident that the atmosphere would be completely reversed by the third phase. Because about 110 seats of Kolkata Presidency were to be voted in 3rd, 4th and 5th phase. TMC's people did get a little breather after the 3rd phase of voting. Out of the 31 assembly seats of the 3rd phase, TMC claimed to have won more than 20 seats. However, BJP claimed 50-50 in this phase. But based on conversations with journalist friends reporting in different places, it looked like that out of 16 seats of South 24 Parganas in the third phase, Trinamool can do a clean sweep. On the other hand, BJP could do a clean sweep in Hooghly, where voting for 8 seats was held. I was staying at Tarakeswar constituency in Hooghly for a day, from where BJP nominated Swapnadas Gupta, who is one of the contenders for the post of Chief Minister if BJP wins the elections. A total of 7 seats went to polls in Howrah. TMC appeared to have an edge here, but BJP claimed to win 1 to 2 seats in here as well. Overall, TMC's lead was clear in the 3rd phase.
Then we set out for the fourth phase of polling in Cooch Behar area of North Bengal. On the way, we came across a coconut water-seller in Nadia district. While drinking coconut water, we asked the vendor of his opinion on the elections. He kept quiet for a while, but after noticing the ‘tilak’ on my forehead, asked if I am a Hindu. I said yes. He then said something that reveals a major clue about the elections across the state. He said, “all Hindus are with Modi and all Muslims with Didi”.
At this point, let me make it clear that I had visited the Kali Ghat temple while for leaving Cooch Behar from Kolkata, where a priest had put ‘tilak on my forehead. That’s how the coconut seller recognised I am a Hindu and that is why he did not hesitate in saying what he said. The boy hinted at the polarization of Hindu and Muslim voters in the election.
It is possible that since Nadia, Malda and Murshidabad have Muslim-majority population, Mamata Banerjee made a call to unite minority voters. After Banerjee’s statement, PM Modi at a rally said if he had appealed to the Hindu voters to vote in unison, he would have also received a notice from Election Commission.
Cooch Behar is about 17 hours from Kolkata, so we decided to stop in Murshidabad on the night of March 8. The Battle of Bengal i.e. the Battle of Plassey of 1757 took place in Nadia district. It is said that Siraj-ud-Daulah, the Nawab of Bengal lost the battle to the British because of Mir Jafar. Mir Jafar was the chief commander of army of Siraj-ud-Daulah. He had joined hands with the British. Because of this Siraj-ud-daula lost the battle despite having an army of 50,000 soldiers while the Britishers were only 3000. That is why Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in her speeches is calling TMC leaders who joined BJP as Mir Jafar or ‘traitors’.
I was curious about visiting the place where the Battle of Plassey was fought. When I went there and asked people about Mir Jafar and his family, they told us to go and talk to the family directly. We asked them where we can find them. They told us that Mir Jafar’s family lives in Hazarduari area of Murshidabad.
After stopping at Murshidabad at night, in the morning we went to meet the "Aulad of Mir Jafar". By the way, the word "Aulad of Mir Jafar" is used for a traitor. It is considered abusive. But we had to meet with the Aulad of Mir Jafar to know who he was with today.
On reaching the area, when we asked people about the location of the family, they did not seem pleased. But then a person standing there showed us the little Nawab's house. We entered through the gate of Hazarduari, the house of Syed Raza Mirza, the younger Nawab of Mir Jafar clan. I told the 80-year-old Mirza that there is a lot of discussion of your family in Bengal elections and asked who he was supporting. He said Mamata without any hint of doubt. You can now guess who the Aulad of Mir Jafar was with. I was there to do a story on who Mir Jafar was with. My story completed right then.
After this, I left for Cooch Behar to cover the voting for the fourth phase to be held on 10th April. From morning itself, news of bombings and firings started emerging from different booths. The TMC activists launched an attack on security forces at booth number 126 of Sitalkuchi in Cooch Behar. The security forces retaliated killing 4 people. It would not be wrong to say that it was the result of the incessant incitement by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. I was busy covering this story all day. That is why I could not get a chance to discuss with anyone about what was the trend of the fourth phase. In the morning, I got a call from office to cover the story of the Election Commission ban on Mamata Banerjee’s rally in Cooch Behar.
While preparing to leave the hotel, I came across some journalist colleagues at a tea shop. I asked what the situation looked like, who would win now that four phases have been completed. A seemingly sad journalist said it looks like "there will be a change of power in Bengal". I asked him why he thought so. He replied that it was Mamata's angry demeanor that indicates so. My conversation with this journalist became the basis of this article.
50% of polling is complete in Bengal by now and 50% is yet to follow. Here too, the case seems 50–50 as 4 out of 8 phases have been completed and 4 phases are still remaining. In the first two phases, BJP took a decent lead. TMC performed well in the third phase. But in the fourth phase, by making it a 50-50 contest, the BJP seems to have secured the edge. Except for Murshidabad, in the rest of places such as Bardhaman, Malda, Dinajpur, Siliguri, Darjeeling, Asansol or Durgapur, the outcome seems to be either 50-50 or going in BJP’s favour. TMC can only win the 8 assembly seats in Kolkata city. In such a situation, instead of a 50-50 contest, the battle of Bengal seems to be signaling a change in regime. I can say this on the basis of my experience of reporting on the ground.