Battleground Bengal Phase 3: Trinamool Still On Shaky Ground, BJP Exudes Confidence After Third Round Of Polling

Battleground Bengal Phase 3: Trinamool Still On Shaky Ground, BJP Exudes Confidence After Third Round Of Polling A Trinamool shelter (Twitter)
  • In 2016, the Trinamool had won 30 of the 31 seats that went to polls in phase three yesterday.

    This time around that number is set to decrease. Here's how it happened.

The third phase of polling for 31 seats spread across the South 24 Parganas, Howrah and Hooghly districts of West Bengal, on Tuesday, was marred by violence.

But what was significant about Tuesday’s poll violence was that the Trinamool was at the receiving end at many places.

Trinamool candidates and functionaries who had allegedly tried to interfere in the poll process by storming polling booths with their supporters were repelled back by BJP supporters.

A prime example of this was the resistance put up by residents of Arandi village in Arambagh Assembly constituency (in Hooghly) to Trinamool candidate Sujata Mondal Khan’s alleged attempts to facilitate false voting.

Khan tried to storm a polling station in the village with a huge crowd of ‘outsiders’, but was chased away by angry villagers who also allegedly assaulted her.

Similar alleged attempts to rig the polls by Khan at Dihibagnan and Paisara villages also met with the same fate.

An attempt allegedly made by a Trinamool candidate from Khanakul Assembly constituency (also in Hooghly), Munshi Nazbul Karim, to storm a polling booth at Malancha with his supporters and goons met with fierce resistance from incensed villagers, who also reportedly assaulted him.

Uluberia Uttar constituency’s Trinamool candidate, Dr Nirmal Majhi, was also beaten back when he went to Amta Mukti Chak polling booth with a huge crowd of his party supporters.

Majhi, who was the junior labour minister in the outgoing Trinamool government, is said to have suffered head injuries.

BJP candidates and functionaries were also attacked by Trinamool goons, but those attacks were much lesser in scale.

Uluberia Paschim BJP candidate Papiya Adhikari was attacked by Trinamool musclemen when she went to meet an injured party functionary at a hospital. But soon after this attack, BJP supporters got hold of these Trinamool musclemen and allegedly beat them.

The polling agent of BJP’s Tarakeshwar candidate, Swapan Dasgupta, was attacked and his vehicle damaged. But there, too, local villagers came out in support of Dasgupta and his injured agent and drove away Trinamool representatives from the area.

Trinamool candidates, functionaries and goons also faced fierce resistance at a few places in South 24 Parganas from activists of Islamist cleric Abbas Siddiqui’s Indian Secular Front (ISF).

Activists and supporters of the ISF clashed with Trinamool members at many places in Canning Purba and Magrahat Paschim constituencies.

ISF activists and supporters mobilised themselves since Monday evening after an attempted attack at Siddiqui, allegedly by goons owing allegiance to Trinamool strongman Saokat Mollah who is the party candidate from Canning East and is close to Diamond Harbour Lok Sabha MP Abhishek Banerjee.

Decoding the day’s events

Unlike in the past, Tuesday's violence was not a one-sided affair with only opposition activists and supporters bearing the brunt of the Trinamool’s depredations.

At most places, activists and even local residents supporting the BJP resisted attempts at booth-capturing, booth-jamming, intimidation and false voting by Trinamool cadres backed by musclemen.

Even ordinary folks resisted the Trinamool’s alleged attempts at intimidating them. A video that went viral featured a woman resisting a shameful attempt by a Trinamool activist to restrain her and prevent her from going to the polling booth at Rambakhali Chowk in Diamond Harbour.

Despite dire warnings by the man, the woman pushed him aside and said she would cast her vote. She also dismissed the Trinamool activist’s warnings that she would come to harm if she voted. “Do whatever you can,” she said and walked away.

Such scenes were repeated at innumerable places in the constituencies that went to the polls on Tuesday.

What all that means is that the Trinamool was unsuccessful in rigging the polls and intimidating voters.

And the reason it was unsuccessful was not only because the opposition, primarily the BJP (and also the ISF in some pockets) was strong and determined, but the ordinary folks (voters) had also mustered the courage to stand up to the Trinamool.

Only very strong anti-incumbency, coupled with a strong opposition that was successful in projecting its strength and assuring voters that they would come to no harm if they voted freely, could have led to such a situation.

This was in stark contrast to the 2016 Assembly polls or the 2018 panchayat polls.

In 2018, the Trinamool won a third of the panchayat seats uncontested because the opposition was too scared to put up candidates.

Opposition supporters were also beaten into submission by an unchallenged Trinamool that held complete sway over Bengal at that time.

Ironically, it was the Trinamool’s strong-arm tactics and intimidation in the 2018 panchayat polls that sowed the seeds of resistance to the ruling party.

So much so that in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Trinamool was no longer able to threaten and intimidate voters at many places.

The anti-incumbency that existed two years ago (during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls) has only intensified, say BJP leaders.

BJP leaders told Swarajya that the party is “satisfied” with the overall polling on Tuesday. They said that the Trinamool had not been able to rig the polls or intimidate voters in the massive scale that it used to in the past.

ISF sources said that their party activists and supporters had foiled most attempts by the Trinamool to rig the polls.

Instead, it was the Trinamool which filed the largest number of complaints with the Election Commission (EC) alleging attacks on its candidates, functionaries and supporters by the BJP and the ISF.

The Trinamool was the one that alleged that the BJP and the ISF rigged the polls, didn’t allow its polling agents inside booths, attacked its candidates and prevented its supporters from casting their votes.

Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee’s accusations against the Election Commission and the central forces who she alleged had favoured the BJP are also clear signs that the third round of polling (and the first and second as well) have not gone in the Trinamool’s favour.

That the Trinamool posited itself as the affected or injured party is very telling. Because it had considered the 31 constituencies where polling was held on Tuesday to be its impregnable citadels.

The Trinamool had won 30 of the 31 seats in 2016 (it lost one seat to the Congress by a relatively close margin) and was hoping to make a clean sweep this time as well.

Clearly, that has not happened. Tuesday’s events have shown that the Trinamool’s party machinery is nowhere as strong as it was in 2016.

And also that many have turned against the incumbent party and mustered the courage to go out and vote by resisting and disregarding warnings and threats by Trinamool cadre.

This, say BJP leaders, provides them with hope that the party will win a majority of the 31 seats. ISF leaders are also optimistic that the party will win at least a couple of these seats.

What also needs to be taken into consideration is that the third phase of polling has given the BJP a big boost. And also enthused the party machinery.

The first three rounds of polling, say BJP leaders, have provided a strong tailwind to the saffron party.

An embattled Trinamool will thus find it increasingly difficult to flex its muscles as it had done in 2016 and 2018.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.


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