In the second phase of polling on April 1 for the ongoing state Assembly elections, 39 constituencies in Assam and 30 in West Bengal will see votes being cast. Assam is having a three-phase election with polling already completed for 47 seats on March 28 in the first round. After today (April 1), the third and final round of polling will be on April 6 for the remaining 40 seats. While the Assam Assembly has 126 members, West Bengal – which has a 292-member Assembly – is going through an unreasonably long, 8-phase election. The first phase saw polling in 30 seats.
In Assam, BJP is fighting to retain the advantage it had gained in the last election by breaking into the traditional Congress strongholds. In Bengal, this phase will see BJP trying to wrest the seats that were won by Trinamool Congress (TMC) last time.
Bengal: High Profile Battle Zone
The 30 seats going to polls in this phase in Bengal complete the polling process in the adivasi belt known as Jangal Mahal. The first phase too saw 30 Assembly constituencies from this region going to polls.
In this phase, Bengal will witness polling in some of the most high profile constituencies including Nandigram (Purbo Medinipur district) where Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is facing defector and her erstwhile confidante Suvendu Adhikari, who has joined the BJP and is being projected as the party’s potential CM. Challenging this binary is the young Meenakshi Mukherji from the Communist Party of India (Marxist), who is the candidate of the Sanjukto Morcha (joint front of Left, Congress and Indian Secular Front).
In the 2016 Assembly elections, TMC had won 21 of the 30 seats while the Left had won five, Congress three and BJP only one. BJP is, however, banking on the 2019 Lok Sabha elections which gave it a major mandate in the region, electing its candidates in all the seats. Experts point out that it is not correct to project voting patterns from a Lok Sabha election on to Assembly elections as, in recent years, voters have made keen distinctions between the two levels of government.
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BJP is relying on an estimated 158 defectors from other parties (mainly TMC) to see it through this election, Suvendu Adhikari being the most pre-eminent of them. Whether people will repose their trust in such candidates is a question that will decide the fate of these elections.
The Mamata Banerjee-Suvendu Adhikari face off in Nandigram has also invoked much mud slinging with “secrets” tumbling out of the political cupboards fast and thick. One of the most sensational disclosures made was that by Mamata Banerjee, who accused her erstwhile aide of masterminding the death of several people in the infamous Nandigram firing incident in 2007. She alleged that it was not police firing alone that killed 14 persons but that some of them were murdered by Adhikari’s hirelings dressed up as police men (but wearing slippers).
Nandigram was the scene of a violent agitation during the Left Front rule and it is believed that the events there led to Banerjee’s rapid rise. TMC defeated the Left Front in the 2011 Assembly elections.
However, ground reports also indicate that the people in this region, especially the volatile and violence prone Nandigram, are tired of the continuing cycle of violence and would prefer more focus on real issues that they face.
Assam: BJP Fighting to Retain Seats
In Assam, the central and southern parts will be polling in this phase. This is perhaps the most diverse region of the state. There are five seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and six for Scheduled Tribes. The latter include the Karbi Anglong belt in southern Assam, as also some of the Bodoland seats. Several constituencies in this region as also along the Brahmaputra have sizeable Muslim population.
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In 2016, BJP had won 22 of these 39 seats, with Congress getting six, and its ally, All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) bagging five seats. BJP allies Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) got two seats while Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) won four. This time round, BPF has abandoned BJP and joined the Congress-led front.
BJP is relying on its communal polarising campaign in the electioneering, hoping to gather votes on ‘anti-infiltrator’ rhetoric which segues seamlessly into anti-Muslim sentiments. However, the rather patchy governance of the Sarbananda Sonowal led BJP government in the state, combined with the BJP’s stance related to the changed citizenship law, has created considerable discontent among people from all sections.
After this second round of polling, the forthcoming third round on April 6 will see 475 Assembly constituencies go to polls spanning all four states (Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala) and the lone Union Territory of Puducherry.