Sarada Lahangir

North Bengal is becoming the most crucial in the election battle of West Bengal. The Trinamool Congress (TMC) is considered to be the weakest in this region, while the BJP had achieved great success here in the last Lok Sabha elections. Out of the 54 assembly seats in the region spread across eight districts, the TMC has been relatively weak in the last two assembly elections. However, this time the TMC has tried to strengthen its position by joining hands with Vimal Gurung of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.

The BJP wants to achieve its mission through North Bengal and wants to achieve greater success by striking more on this weak link of Mamata Banerjee. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won seven of the eight Lok Sabha seats in the region, while one seat went to the Congress account. Which means the TMC did not get any success. Not only this, the Trinamool Congress was able to win only 26 out of 54 assembly seats in the 2016 assembly elections, whereas in the 2011 assembly elections it won only 16 seats.

In the last assembly election, the Trinamool Congress did not get a single seat in Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Malda districts. These districts have 18 assembly seats. However, it won 20 of the 21 seats in Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar and Cooch Behar districts. One seat went to the BJP’s account. Out of the 15 assembly seats in North and South Dinajpur district, Trinamool Congress got six seats, Congress four, CPM two, Forward Block one and RSP 2 seats. Congress won 14 of the 54 seats in North Bengal.

However, this time Mamata Banerjee has joined hands with Vimal Gurung, leader of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, to sway North Bengal. Gurung was earlier with the BJP, but so many cases were filed during the tenure of the Trinamool Congress government that he had to go underground. The BJP says that Gurung has gone with Mamata Banerjee only because of the cases imposed on him.

The Congress and the Left parties are also strong in this area and they are contesting the elections with more power this time. Due to more attention given by Mamata Banerjee in this area this time the contest will be triangular and BJP's hopes are based on it. The more the anti-BJP votes are divided, the more the BJP stands to gain. As it is, the BJP is strong due to winning 7 out of eight seats in the Lok Sabha elections and its leaders are claiming to win more and more seats from this region.

Realizing the fact that the infighting within the TMC might unknowingly help BJP to make more inroads, Mamata Benerjee started taking political steps from last August. In September 30, Mamata had visited North Bengal and announced some major projects in five districts and given grants for different communities. Apart from this, she had laid the foundation stone of Jalpaiguri Medical College and hospital. She also granted 104 acres of land for the extension of Bagdogra airport near Siliguri town. She promised to provide home guard jobs to 161 former Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) members. KLO was a forum formed in 1995 to carry out the armed struggle for separate state for the local Koch Rajabansi community which has a sizeable section of voters in Cooch Behar district. She also announced grant of Rs 5 crore for the Rajbanshi Language Academy, Rs 10 crores for Rajbanshi Development and cultural board and for the second campus of Panchanan Barma University .It need to mention that Barma is most prominent face of Rajabanshi community because he initiated the first movement against caste politics in last century.

Mamata did not overlook Christian and Gorkha communities of Kalimpong. She tried to appease them by granting Rs 175 crore to the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, the district council in Darjeeling hill region.

Countering Mamata Benerjee, BJP president J P Nadda had also visited North Bengal much before the election dates were declared and also asked BJP workers to strengthen the organization in North Bengal. Meanwhile Mamata’s Nephew Abhisek Banerjee kept visiting North Bengal and holding meeting with the legislator and senior leaders from Darjeeling, Alipurduar, South Dinajpur, Cooch Behar and Malda districts.

It is yet to see whose strategy will work in North Bengal but it is for sure that the figures for the seats of North Bengal will affect the mathematics of the future government to a great extent.

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