West Bengal is gearing up for the biggest event of the year, the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The principal players in West Bengal's political playground are CM Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress (TMC), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and the Indian National Congress. The 'battleground state' assumes importance in the current Indian political set-up as it would send 42 MPs to the Lok Sabha and also since it has the maximum number of first-time voters - 20.1 lakh - followed by UP and MP.
According to the announcement by the Election Commission of India, West Bengal will see voting during all the 7 phases of elections. The dates of voting will be April 11, April 18, April 23, April 29, May 6, May 12 and May 19.
BJP will be a force to reckon with in these Lok Sabha elections. It has set itself a target of 22 seats in the state, a dream that doesn't seem far-fetched at the moment. PM Modi has successfully managed to turn around the fortunes of his party, which is now the single biggest threat to Mamta Banerjee's TMC.
Existing political landscape in West Bengal
Mamata Banerjee's TMC is the single largest party in West Bengal. It took over the reins from CPI (M)'s Buddhadeb Bhattacharya in 2011. CPI (M) had governed the state for 34 long years, from 1977 to 2011. However, BJP's resounding victories in the North-eastern states, especially in Tripura, where it ended CPI (M) 25 year rule, have made it more confident and will make it a potent force in the state. BJP has increased its vote share from 4 per cent in 2011 to 17 per cent in 2014 general elections and is hopeful of winning seats in North Bengal and the region bordering Jharkhand, and some seats in North 24 Parganas.
Meanwhile, the Mahagathbandhan has failed to stitch an alliance to counter rising popularity of BJP in the state. Alliance between Congress and TMC and Congress and the Left has failed to materialise. On the other hand, BJP's ally Shiv Sena has decided to enter the West Bengal turf for the first time.
Some of the big names to look out for in West Bengal during the Lok Sabha elections would be TMC's Mamata Banerjee, Abhishek Banerjee, Partha Chatterjee, Derek O'Brien, Suvendu Adhikari, and Sudip Bandyopadhyay. Key leaders of the BJP are Dilip Ghosh, Mukul Roy and Rahul Sinha. Big Congress names in the state include Somen Mitra and Abdul Mannan and lastly, CPI (M) would bank on Suryakanta Mishra, Md Salim and Biman Bose.
Major poll issues in West Bengal
National Register of Citizens (NRC): NRC was conducted in Assam but has become the key issue in West Bengal. BJP's Amit Shah has promised to bring NRC to West Bengal whereas Mamata Banerjee has termed NRC as an electoral gimmick.
Non-fixation of minimum wages: The initial two phases of the elections in West Bengal will take place in and around the states tea-belt that includes Darjeeling, Terai and Dooars. The trade unions in the region have been demanding the implementation of minimum wages in tea gardens but none of the political parties have promised anything yet.
Citizenship (Amendment) Bill: The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is a big issue in West Bengal and could influence the upcoming Lok Sabha polls. The bill does not recognise Muslim immigrants as eligible for citizenship. TMC has called it discriminatory whereas BJP has said that it will reintroduce the bill in Parliament if the BJP returns to power.
Edited By: Udit Verma