The first phase of elections in Bengal has started. It is only 4 out of 42 seats. The constituencies are Darjeeling, Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar. For a casual observer, this is merely a warm up phase. But parties in Bengal know how important this phase is. 3 out of the 4 seats have been Left bastion for a very long time now. A good showing by either of the major political players today can energise the workers to a great deal for the future battle.
The run up to the polls have been plagued by bitter acrimony between Trinamool Congress and Election Commission. EC has cracked the whip withdrawing state government officers whom they deemed biased. On the other hand, TMC chief Mamata Banerjee has cried hoarse saying that EC is behaving in a partisan manner. The opposition parties allege that the ruling party is planning to completely stomp their authority by force, like they did in the Panchayat polls.
The EC has taken strong precautions so that voters can exercise their democratic rights in a free and fair manner. 100 companies of para military force are stationed across different booths in these 4 constituencies. To keep tabs about polls from Kolkata, lot of booths have been provided with video streaming facility. The live feed will be monitored by EC officials to take prompt action if they detect anything fishy. Around 60% of the booths have been declared either sensitive or extra sensitive where additional forces have been deployed.
There is varied level of expectations of different political parties in Bengal from this first phase of polling. Let us review each of them.
Although TMC has a thumping majority in Bengal, it is relatively weak in the Northern part of the state. After coming to power, one of the major successes Mamata boasts about is skillful handling of the Darjeeling issue. Didi believes Morcha has betrayed her trust by reposing faith on BJP. Thus the seat of Darjeeling is an extremely crucial one. If former Indian captain Bhaichung Bhutiya can scrape through, it will change the power equation in hills. Mamata will be in ascendancy and Gorkhaland issue can go to the backburner. TMC expects to win 2-3 seats out of the 4.
If the Left has to realistically win seats in double digit this time around, it has to pick up at least 2-3 seats in the first phase. Left has been traditionally strong here but the winds of change has harmed their organisation. The strong man of Shiliguri Ashok Bhattacharya has been cut down to size. More than their own votes, the Left is looking at division in opponent votes to scrape through.
Its brightest chance of winning a seat in Bengal is in this phase. In Darjeeling, GJM is supporting BJP candidate S.S Ahluwalia. The saffron brigade is not hoping to register much fight in the other 3 constituencies, though it expects vote share of the party to rise.
Owing to poor selection of candidates, Congress does not have bright prospect in any of the seats. The organisation is also in shambles due to internal feuds. The best they can hope is to rebuild the organisation with an eye on 2016 Assembly polls.
Some of the key issue which will decide which way the electorates vote are:
There are nearly 500 tea gardens in this region. The Adivasi Parishad has sizeable influence on those workers. Parishad has urged the voters to vote for TMC. It may become a crucial factor. The Left has a dedicated vote bank in this region. Can it get people to cast their votes will be a big question. On the overall analysis, Left seems to have their nose slightly forward.