Though West Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress has been emboldened by its stunning electoral performances following the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is hot on its heels and has demanded that all pending civic polls in the state should be held simultaneously and not selectively as per the convenience of the TMC.
The opposition party’s statement came after Trinamool wrote to the state election commission, requesting it to conduct municipal polls in Kolkata, Howrah and Bidhannagar on December 19.
State BJP leaders see a ploy in this and claim that the TMC’s move has been prompted by the opposition party’s failure to secure a single MLA seat in these three areas and Trinamool wants to take advantage of the favourable political situation.
Speaking to News18.com, former BJP state president Dilip Ghosh said, “We don’t have any problem with it. But if they are really strong enough in Bengal, let them fight us in all the pending civic polls simultaneously. Our performance was not so good in the recently held elections in the state because people were threatened and terrorised for supporting the BJP in Bengal. The rise in winning margin clearly shows how TMC secures voters by terrorising the people. We have been demanding civic polls for a long time but the TMC was scared of the BJP’s exponential rise in Bengal. We are ready to face them even if the situation is difficult and I am sure we will manage to win a significant number of wards if polls in nearly 120 civic bodies are held simultaneously. Our election committee members will soon discuss the matter and it will be taken before the Election Commission.”
The TMC under chief minister Mamata Banerjee is on an electoral high after a decisive victory over the BJP in the April-May assembly polls this year, followed by sweeps in by-elections held in late September and October.
Senior Trinamool leader and municipal affairs minister Chandrima Bhattacharya said, “Preliminary talks have been started on civic polls and further details will be provided in the coming days.”
BJP spokesperson Shamik Bhattacharya, though, accused the TMC of political violence. “The BJP is the world’s largest party and a few unfavourable poll results due to the terror politics of the TMC are not going to deter us from securing our goals in Bengal. Yes, we are ready to face them in civic polls but the condition is let them face us in all the 120 civic bodies simultaneously and not phase-wise. This is their strategy to secure wards through their goons and we will not agree on this.”
Suggesting that the state government is intentionally delaying the poll process, the state BJP wrote a letter to the state election commission, before the recently held assembly polls, and demanded immediate intervention in the matter while reminding of the Supreme Court last year seeking the poll body’s opinion on how soon the pending elections could be conducted.
The Calcutta High Court too had earlier observed that the polls should be held as soon as possible.
In 2015, the TMC had won 114 of the total 144 wards under the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC). The Left parties had got 15, the BJP 7 and the Congress 5. Polling was also held in 91 municipalities in the state and Trinamool bagged 71.
In the past five years, the BJP has made visible inroads into Bengal and the party under the-then state unit chief Dilip Ghosh not only managed to wrest 18 Lok Sabha seats (from a mere two seats in 2014) from the ruling TMC in 2019, it also did well in nearly 51 out of the 144 wards in the Kolkata Municipal Corporation.
During the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP took the lead in nearly 26 wards of north and south Kolkata. Significantly, this includes ward number 82 in Chetla that belongs to mayor Firhad Hakim.
In January 2011, Hakim won a by-election from Chetla by securing nearly 76.82 per cent votes. In 2010, he won from the same ward with nearly 72 per cent votes. His victory was huge, against BJP’s Jiban Sen, who could manage only 11.95 per cent votes.
But in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Firhad’s party colleague Mala Roy, the Kolkata South candidate, managed to take a lead by only around 1,000 votes from the Chetla segment.
The most significant was Mamata Banerjee’s own ward no. 73 where, as per the voting patterns during the general elections, the BJP was ahead by nearly 490 votes.
Similar trends were also observed in wards 58, 85 and 93. While ward number 58 belongs to senior mayor-in-council member Swapan Samaddar, ward numbers 85 and 93 are under Debasish Kumar and Ratan De. All three failed to secure leads.
At least three borough TMC chairpersons — Sandip Bakshi, Ratan Malakar and Susanta Ghosh — also trailed in their respective wards.
Senior Trinamool leader and party MP Sudip Bandopadhyay was also behind in eight of the 11 wards at Jorasanko in the Kolkata North Lok Sabha constituency during the 2019 parliamentary elections. In Jadavpur, the ruling TMC trailed in four wards.
However, in the last two years there has been a sea change in Bengal’s politics, especially as Mamata Banerjee has battled back to power with a huge mandate and, analysts say, now it will be interesting to see whether the BJP will be able to take on the ‘Didi wave’ in Bengal.