Is Trinamool Congress bracing for its toughest poll in recent years? Is Mamata Banerjee eyeing a national role, possibly that of a kingmaker, since her party is likely to become the third-largest in Parliament, after BJP and Congress? A look at the list of candidates she has picked seems to suggest so. The 42 Trinamool candidates include a mix of battle-scarred veterans and political newbies.
Three numbers throw light on her strategy
First, about one of every three party MPs in the outgoing Lok Sabha has not made it to the list. Of its 34 MPs, the party has dropped eight and two have quit and joined BJP.
Secondly, more than two-fifths of its nominees — 17 of 42 — have either never entered Parliament or are contesting from a new constituency, another indication TMC wants to beat anti-incumbency. And, third, over 40% of its poll tickets have gone to women, indicating the constituency the party is keen to woo.
TMC vs BJP
This time, the electoral paradigm is heading for a Trinamool-versus-BJP binary in Bengal. The saffron party has emerged as the main opposition and eroded the support base of the Left in many districts. The Left and Congress are trying to put up a fight against TMC and BJP for the sake of their own survival.
After declaring the candidates’ list on Tuesday, Mamata too conceded the 2019 poll was “a big challenge” and made it clear BJP was her main opponent. She even expressed her willingness to campaign against the saffron party in Narendra Modi’s constituency, Varanasi, “if invited by Mayawati or Akhilesh”.
Her assessment is based on the fact that opposition in Bengal is on a weak wicket. Cracks have surfaced in Congress bastions in North Bengal. The Dasmunshi bastion of Raigunj fell in 2014. Similar is the situation in Murshidabad, another Congress stronghold. TMC feels the rise of BJP in the minority-dominated districts will split the opposition votes three-way, indirectly helping the party. The Left is struggling to retain the two seats it had won in 2014.
Best face for each seat
Faced with BJP as its main rival, TMC is looking to ensure it has the best face for each seat, chopping and changing its list of candidates. TMC national secretary Subrata Bakshi opted out of the prestigious Kolkata Dakshin seat to make way for Kolkata Municipal Corporation chairperson Mala Roy, a seasoned hand at managing the party as well as the administration.
Party veteran and panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee was picked to fight from Bankura, where BJP is likely to pose a tough fight. The more calculated changes have been made in areas that have witnessed a saffron surge since 2018 panchayat polls – Bankura, Jhargram, Midnapore and Bolpur.
In Ranaghat, TMC has fielded the widow of MLA Satyajit Biswas, who was murdered recently, from the dominant Matua community. The party replaced Krishnanagar MP Tapas Pal with Karimpur MLA Mahua Moitra, a familiar face on TV, and fielded former Forward Bloc minister in the Left Front rule, Paresh Adhikari, from Cooch Behar.
TMC pre-empted hills parties by nominating Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) leader and Darjeeling MLA Amar Singh Rai as its candidate from Darjeeling. BJP could lose this seat, which it has held for a decade, with the Binay Tamang faction backing TMC.