Shibdas Bhattacharjee

Political activities have geared up in poll-bound Assam and West Bengal. The election schedule is yet to be declared but the political mercury is rising with the parties in power in both Assam and West Bengal are making efforts to woo voters through announcements of distributing freebies. Distribution of 22,000 scooties among girl students, Rs 100 every day to the girls for attending schools, Rs 3,000 each to over seven lakh tea garden workers, Re-SVAYEM scheme of Rs 50,000 to youths are some of the populist steps taken by the Assam Government prior to the election battle. The West Bengal Government has also declared distribution of 9.5 lakh tablets to the higher secondary students, 20 lakh bicycles among the students of Classes IX to XII, old age pension for all above 60 years, widow pension to all aged over 18 years, 20 lakh houses and 100 English-medium schools for people belonging to SC/ST communities, among others. Apart from these Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee declared the establishment of 100 new schools in tea gardens, Krishak Bandhu Scheme, government’s health insurance policy Swastha Saathi,  free ration, setting up of 100 MSME parks and such others.

The policy of distributing freebies sometimes influences election results. However, it is impossible to say whether this will click this time for the ruling parties in both the States. After all, the election arithmetic is different and it is never easy to take things for granted. There is a noticeable difference between 2016 and 2021. In 2016, the Modi wave broke all equations in Assam. In West Bengal, however, the TMC emerged stronger and formed a government for the second consecutive term.

The BJP’s poll prospects depend a lot on the campaign strategy of Modi and Amit Shah. Arithmetically, the BJP seems to have the upper hand in Assam and West Bengal considering the saffron party’s poll performance in the 2019 general elections. In fact, the BJP created history by winning 18 out of 42 parliamentary constituencies in Bengal.

However, what matters in elections is how the political parties exist as components in the political chemistry at a given time. Importantly, today’s chemistry is different. The year 2020 was important in the political history of Assam. Resurgence of regional politics in Assam has changed the political equation. Also, the Congress-AIUDF-Left forming a grand alliance against the BJP is another important development. This is evident that it will be tough for the BJP retaining at least 15 seats the party won in 2016 – Patharkandi, Sonai, Barkhola, Katigarh, Golakganj, Bilasipara East, Sorbhog, Mangaldoi, Hajo, Sootea, Barkhetri, Lumding, Batadraba, Thowra and Sivasagar because of the Congress and AIUDF coming together. The BJP is not in a position to compensate the loss particularly from Lower Assam and Barak Valley mainly because of the demographic pattern of these regions. Similarly, after making alliance with the AIUDF, it will be tough for the Congress to retain the seats like Golaghat, Dergaon, Jorhat, Majuli, Titabar, Najira, Mariani, Doomdooma and Sarupathar. But will the BJP be able to bag these? This question arises because new regional parties like the Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) and Raijor Dal backed by mainstream regional and students’ organizations have the potential of extending formidable challenges in this election. If the electoral contests become multi-cornered, the results will definitely be surprising. The fact is: new regional parties may not win too many seats but the parties can damage the poll prospect of both the BJP and Congress in upper Assam. On the other hand, too many regional outfits contesting elections may ultimately help the Congress or BJP in the election. Larger tactical alliance of all anti-BJP parties may build a new chemistry and damage the BJP’s prospects. Similarly, Assam BJP having a strong support base among tea garden labourers, different ethnic groups, extending support base in autonomous councils, tribes and established regional parties like the AGP, BPF and others may change the electoral chemistry in favour of the saffron party and ruling alliance once again. Added to this is certainly PM Modi’s poll campaign and stewarding voters’ psychology.

The BJP has put into use the whole machination to register the party’s maiden victory in this year’s Bengal election. The BJP seems to have the upper hand in Bengal elections as the Trinamool Congress leaders including Rajib Banerjee, Baishali Dalmiya, Prabir Ghoshal, Rathin Chakraborti and Rudranil Ghosh joined the BJP before polls. The Bengal BJP claims that, as many as 41 TMC leaders are ready to join the party.  The latest is certainly the dramatic resignation of Rajya Sabha member Dinesh Trivedi and there is possibility of him joining the BJP. But here also the electoral chemistry evolves with prominence. A close look at the election results of 2019 shows that despite conceding defeat, vote share of TMC increased by 4.5% in that election. The BJP no doubt increased its vote share by 21% and got that vote share from the Left Front. In the 2019 general elections, the Left Front extended silent support to the BJP. But this time the Left Front is also trying to emerge afresh. The Bengal BJP is also suffering from internal bickering between the old BJP leaders and the newcomers in the party. Senior leaders like Rahul Sinha, Tathagata Roy and others have become irrelevant in the party. Sinha was replaced as the national general secretary by a former Trinamool Congress leader Anupam Hazra while another defector from the TMC, Mukul Roy, was promoted. The Bengal BJP does not have a face to project as its CM candidate. Though the TMC is not facing corruption charges, it is finding it hard to keep the party intact before the elections. The Left-Congress alliance has changed the chemistry of Bengal politics substantially. The Bengal election is going to be a tri-cornered contest this time. Asaduddin Oaisi has already declared that his party is contesting the Bengal elections, particularly from the minority-dominated Murshidabad, Malda and Nadiya districts. This may add a new equation and influence the election results.

Thus as an important part of a democratic exercise, a new chemistry is evolving on the eve of the Assembly elections in Assam and West Bengal. The political parties should keep in mind that the voters are the most important stakeholders in the electoral process. It will be interesting to see how people respond to these new developments.