Kolkata: The upcoming Panchayat polls in West Bengal are rapidly emerging as a warm up match for the BJP ahead the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, with the saffron party pulling out all stops to reach out to the people, political observers say.
With nearly 40 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal located in villages and semi-urban areas, administered by Panchayats, an absolute control of the rural bodies is a must for political parties to have an upper hand on rivals in the next year's Lok Sabha polls.
The battle is interestingly poised as the Trinamool Congress (TMC) is planning to play a bigger role nationally after the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and the BJP aiming to emerge as the main opposition to the TMC in the state.
West Bengal BJP chief Dilip Ghosh said the results of the Panchayat polls to be held next month might not have a direct impact on Lok Sabha polls as the elections in rural bodies were held under the state administration, but it would surely give an indication in which way the wind was blowing.
"The Panchayat polls will be a warm up match for us not only to galvanise party workers but also to reach out to the people against the TMC's misrule ahead of 2019," he said.
BJP president Amit Shah had recently said the party is aiming to win 22 seats in Bengal.
According to a state BJP leader, with the BJP facing anti-incumbency in some North Indian states, the saffron camp was well aware that any reduction in the number of seats needed to be compensated with seats from West Bengal and Odisha.
"We need to win maximum number of seats in Lok Sabha in order to compensate the shortfall and also to emerge as the main opposition to the TMC," the BJP leader said.
"If we have to win more than 20 seats, then it is important that we have a good presence in Panchayats across the state and for that, we have to fight the TMC and win as many seats as possible," Ghosh told PTI.
The recent clashes between the BJP and the TMC in various parts of the states were a clear indication that the BJP would not yield a single inch without putting up a fight, senior BJP leader Mukul Roy said.
Even as the Congress and the CPI(M) failed to open their account properly in filing nominations across the state, the sheer number of nominations filed by BJP, which is just second to the TMC, showed how the saffron camp was serious in contesting the TMC.
"The people of Bengal wants the BJP as they have seen the rule of the Congress, the TMC and the CPI(M). With each passing day, the BJP is gaining strength in Bengal despite terror tactics of the TMC," BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijayvergiya claimed.
The TMC leadership too accused the BJP of aggression in filing nominations and of bringing in "outsiders" to disturb the peace in the state.
"They are trying hard to gain ground by use of violence but will not succeed as people of the state are with the TMC," TMC secretary general Partha Chatterjee told PTI.
The Panchayat elections will be held across 48,650 seats in 3,358 Gram Panchayats, 9,217 seats at 341 Panchayat Samitis, and 825 seats at 20 Zilla Parishads in three phases in the first week of May.
The counting of votes will take place on May 8.
The TMC now not only controls all the Zilla Parishads of the state but also 90 per cent of the Panchayat seats.
In 2013, the TMC had won 34 out of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state in a stellar show in Panchayat polls.
The TMC's victory in South 24 Parganas and East Midnapore Zilla Parishads in the 2008 Panchayat polls first signalled the fall of three-decade-old Left regime in 2011.
According to political parties, the victory in these elections is important to reach out to the people as those living in rural areas depend on Panchayats for basic amenities such as drinking water, agricultural land, schools, social and government benefits.
Galvanized after its performance in the recent Ram Navami celebrations across the state, the West Bengal BJP, which has been increasing its vote share in all the elections since 2016 Assembly polls, hopes to emerge as an opposition to the TMC by edging out the Congress and the CPI(M).
Senior CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty, however, claimed, "The divisive policy of the BJP will not work in Bengal and only the Left Front can fight against misrule of the TMC."