The Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC) dominates the political landscape of West Bengal, where 42 Lok Sabha seats will go to the polls. In the 2014 elections, the state’s voter turnout was 82.16%, much higher than the all-India figure of 66.4%. Mint takes a look at the state’s electoral pot.
What’s the importance of West Bengal in the political sphere?
West Bengal was a citadel of the Left and one of the three states, along with Kerala and Tripura, where Left parties were a force to reckon with. The Left ruled Bengal from 1977 to 2011—the longest uninterrupted rule by any coalition in a state—on the back of pro-farmer and pro-poor policies. Jyoti Basu was the chief minister for 23 of these 34 years. Over time, industries shut shop, leading to job loss. There were also allegations of booth capturing and murder of political opponents. Against this backdrop, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) led by Mamata Banerjee dislodged the Left.
Why is Banerjee popular?
In a state prone to political violence, Banerjee has the pulse of the people. The chief minister has tried to attract private capital, but with limited success. She also rules over a hotbed of arts and culture, where economic prosperity is not the end-all and be-all of life and where the sophistication of the elite has a lot of appeal. Schemes such as Kanyashree to educate girls, a Krishak Bandhu plan offering ₹5,000 per acre to farmers and a Sabuj Sathi scheme to distribute cycles to students from Classes IX and XII have received a good response. TMC is one of the two parties in India that has a quota for women candidates.
What are the state’s demographics?
West Bengal has a population 91.27 million and a sex ratio of 950, better than the country’s 943. The literacy rate is 76.26%. Almost 30% of the people belong to reserved categories.
What chance do the other parties stand?
It is Banerjee versus the rest, with no major alliances in place. In the 2016 assembly polls, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was a poor fourth, behind the Congress and the Left. With help from the Sangh, BJP would aim at a double-digit score, with a better outing in urban areas and votes from Hindu migrants. The lack of strong state-level leadership could hurt both the Congress and the Left. Support for the Congress is evenly spread out, though. Rural Bengal and minorities deserted the Left long ago, supporting Banerjee instead.
What are the key electoral issues?
Banerjee is no doubt the tallest leader in the state. The prevailing personality-driven politics in the state overlooks the graft charges and the lack of jobs and economic opportunities in her regime. She has been most strident in opposing Prime Minister Narendra Modi. While jobs, poverty elimination, access to education and security would appear to be poll issues, this is a state where ideologies can rule over the most pressing needs of life. Even if BJP records its best-ever tally in the state, that may not be enough to upstage TMC.