New Delhi/Kolkata: After planning for three years to enter the political arena of West Bengal and challenge the electoral strength of West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is expected to grow in strength and vote percentage in the eastern state.

In what is likely to spell bad news for Mamata Banerjee, exit polls project the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) making a significant dent in its seat share in the state.

With most exit polls assigning a seat share between 11-18 seats to the BJP, the numbers if true, could prove to be a shot in the arm for the ruling party in the Centre, with its seat share jumping from the two seats it had won in 2014, with the party gaining just 8.6 million votes and 17% vote share in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

While the exit polls show a marked decline in the fortunes of the Trinamool Congress (TMC), assigning 22-28 seats to the party, down from the 34 seats it had won in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Mamata launched an attack on the process saying, “I don’t trust exit poll gossip. The game plan is to manipulate or replace thousands of EVMs through this gossip. I appeal to all opposition parties to be united, strong and bold."

While Congress and Left parties are likely to become smaller political force in the state, at least BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has managed to become the main challenger to Trinamool Congress under Banerjee.

Although BJP could only manage to win two seats in West Bengal in 2014 general elections, which has been the party’s highest Lok Sabha victory in the state, the party has now targeted 23 out of 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state.

“Three years ago, BJP leaders had met and decided that the party should win at least 23 Lok Sabha seats in the general elections. We are hopeful that West Bengal will be the growth area for BJP in the Lok Sabha polls," said a senior BJP leader based in Lucknow.

Senior leaders of the BJP point out that the party has targeted Lok Sabha polls in West Bengal, Odisha, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Soon after 2014 general elections, BJP had identified 160 Lok Sabha seats where BJP had no or marginal presence and the party is keen to win some of the seats in these Lok Sabha seats.

BJP president Amit Shah has given the target of winning at least 80 seats out of the Lok Sabha seats where BJP has traditionally not performed well.

The Trinamool Congress, however, is pulling out all stops to ensure that the ruling BJP is unsuccessful at making inroads in the state, hoping to retain its current seat share in the state.

Cashing in on the fact that the Mamata-led TMC had ousted the CPIM in West Bengal after its 35 year rule in 2011, the TMC is confident that despite the prediction of the exit polls, the truth on the ground would be wholly different.

“If you look at areas such as Cooch Behar and 24 Parganas, there is a clear Mamata wave even now. You should see the extent of work the party has done in these areas and in main town Kolkata. TMC is here to stay and BJP will not be able to do much," a senior TMC said, on condition of anonymity.

While nine seats in West Bengal cast their ballot on Sunday, the TMC has been vociferously highlighting the Modi government’s perceived failures in the state, with the party playing up the “chowkidar chor hai" slogan at each of its rally and public meetings.

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