Can Didi retain Bengal & push Left into oblivion?

West Bengal goes to polls in April-May this year along with three other states Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Assam. Politicalbaaba (PB) will cover these elections in detail with analysis, deep insights and reports from on the ground.

Demographics of the State

  • The state has 294 assembly constituencies, 210 in general category and 84 reserved for SC /ST category. 72% of the population lives in rural areas (41% voted for Trinamool and 32% for Left in LS 2014).
  • WB accounts for 2nd highest Muslim population in India after Uttar Pradesh (27% of state population). They are in a position to influence outcome in c.75 seats. Their votes were split between Trinamool (40%), Left (31%) & Congress (24%) in LS 2014.
  • SC/ST account for 30% of state population. Traditional Left voters SC’s have shifted allegiance to Trinamool (40%)while Left continues to hold its grip over ST (40%).
  • Upper castes which account for just 10% of population, have historically held majority of the ministerial positions and more than one-third MLAs belong to this community. BJP has lately made inroads into this caste group.
  • West Bengal is home to the 5th largest number of poor people in India (20% population below poverty line).

State has historically been a citadel of Communists

The Communists / Left Front ruled the state for 34 continuous years from 1977-2011. During this period Congress party was its principal opponent. They developed a loyal vote bank of economically poor classes and minorities.

In 1998, Mamata Banerjee broke away from Congress and formed her own party Trinamool Congress (AITC / TMC). Since 2001 state elections, TMC occupied the principal opposition slot against Left and managed to wrest power in 2011 albeit in alliance with the same Congress from which she broke away more than a decade ago.

2011 State Elections – Turning Point in West Bengal History

In 2011 elections, TMC formed an alliance with Congress and bagged 227 seats with 48.4% vote share (TMC 184 seats / 38.9% vote share and Congress 42 seats / 9.1% vote share). Left Front was decimated and could win only 62 seats (-175 seats and loss of 9.2% vote share).

The longest serving democratically elected Communist government in the world was ultimately defeated. People voted for change and saw in Mamata a hope of new Bengal after years of feeble opposition let Left Front have its say and rule the state. Communists paid heavily for the Nandigram violence and the traditional vote bank of the party – peasants / poor / lower class – turned away from them in these elections.

The turnout was pretty high at 84.6% among the highest in the country excluding north eastern states. Female turnout increased by 3.7% compared to 2% increase in male turnout.

The loss for the Left Front was less in rural areas; however it suffered a lot in the semi-urban and urban constituencies. Even incumbent CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharya lost his seat. The Left Front could not win a single seat in four districts of Darjeeling, Kolkata, Howrah, and Purba Medinipur.

TMC (AITC) got majority on its own and didn’t require Congress help. However, Mamata was part of UPA at the center and participated in Manmohan ministry as Railways Minister. Hence she continued the alliance at state level.

TMC withdrew support to UPA in Sep. 2012, around 1.5 years after their joint victory in Bengal, protesting FDI in retail. Also she was unhappy at dilly dallying on action against Dinesh Trivedi, one of her ministers, showing rebellious tendencies. This marked the end of the alliance in Bengal.

52 / 294 seats witnessed close contest in 2011 where the victory margin was less than 3%. TMC-Congress alliance won 24 of these seats.

Seat Position of Parties in last 5 Elections


Vote Share of Parties in last 5 Elections


However, 2011 results do not reflect the new political dynamics in the state – breakup of Congress-TMC alliance, proposed seat sharing talks between Congress and Left and BJP’s meteoric rise in the state in central elections.

2014 Lok Sabha Polls – Mamata Consolidates Amid BJP Rise Nationally

In 2014 Lok Sabha polls, TMC swept the state bagging 34 / 42 seats and recording an increase of 1% in vote share compared to 2011 state polls. Left Front could manage to win only 2 seats and its vote share was down by >10%. BJP won 2 seats and garnered 17% vote share (+13%) riding on Modi wave. Congress won 4 seats and kept its vote share intact at c.10% even without Mamata.

The Decline of Left & The Rise of Mamata


BJP surprised political pundits with the same tally as CPM. Absence of fresh faces in the Left Front and Modi factor led to this performance (20% respondents in CSDS survey preferred Modi as PM compared to 17% for Mamata).

BJP made major inroads among the upper caste voters accounting for 10% of population (24% in 2014 vs 9% in 2009). Modi’s impact was most prominent among the young, especially the first time voters. In terms of assembly segments, TMC was leading in 214, Left and Congress in 28 each and BJP in 24 seats.

2016 State Elections: An Easy win for Mamata?

In a quadrangular contest it is highly probable that Mamata would win or TMC may emerge as the single largest party within striking distance of forming the government as anti-Mamata votes get split between Left, Congress and BJP. In a triangular contest, however, game would become very interesting. This is why Congress and Left have shown an interest to fight polls together in an alliance or with a tactical understanding.

If Congress and Left would have fought in alliance in 2014 LS polls their vote share would have been equal to TMC and leads would have increased from 28 seats to 95 seats (still not enough but at least they are in with a chance). So in my opinion “Ekla Chalo Re” is not feasible for Congress and Left in Bengal and arithmetic favours the alliance.

Seat Position in LS 2014

  2014 LS Polls 2014 LS Polls (Cong. + Left Together)
  Vote Share Assembly Leads Vote Share Assembly Leads
TMC 39.8% 214 39.8% 179
LEFT FRONT 30.1% 28 39.8% 95
CONGRESS 9.7% 28
BJP 17.0% 24 17.0% 20

The 5 year old Mamata government doesn’t seem to have serious anti-incumbency sentiment against it (at least not visible on the ground). Economy has slowed, projects abandoned (Singur Tata Motors Plant), TMC leaders have been involved in Saradha chit scam and law & order situation remains grim in some parts. No notable change from Communist days’ critics may argue. Still, divided opposition makes her top favourite.

In 2011 she had Congress vote share as cushion and to be sure of victory needs to ally with some smaller parties like Gorkha National Front, JMM, SP, SUCI etc. to add 2%-3% vote share buffer.

Can BJP emerge as the alternative to Left?

The strong performance in 2014 Lok Sabha has raised hopes for BJP. Does it have the organizational presence to become the principal opposition party in Bengal? Can it take advantage of dwindling Left fortunes nationally and Congress weak position to become the real threat to Mamata? Not only Left even Mamata is worried because of an overlapping vote bank as BJP appeals to educated urban voters. Given the poor show of BJP in municipal polls and loss of vote share in all state elections compared to Maharashtra, this doesn’t look easy.

To sum up, Mamata looks favourite on paper to return to power in a 4 cornered contest. If Congress and Left combine forces battle would become interesting. BJP could lose 2%-5% vote share compared to LS polls and if this is grabbed by Congress-Left combine then it has a good chance to scuttle Mamata’s chances.

Can Mamata win a second consecutive term? Well the clue to this is hidden in the answers to the questions below:

  • Can Congress-Left enter into a historic pact to take on Trinammol despite them being top rivals in Kerala?
  • Can BJP defy trend and put up a spirited performance? If yes, which party will it hurt more – TMC or Congress and / or Left?
  • Can JNU incident prop up Left confidence and enable them to go all out to prevent their fortunes from dwindling further?
  • Who will Muslims back in their bid for power?
  • Can elections in Bengal move from predominantly class to caste based politics?

All this and much more we will see in the coming posts. So stay tuned….




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