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As BJP raises Bengal pitch, Trinamool works out strategy around 9 big districts

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Kolkata: As the BJP intensifies its campaigning in West Bengal, with its leaders claiming that the party will win more than 200 seats in the 294-member assembly, the ruling Trinamool Congress is banking on its organisational strength and position in the nine big districts of the state that will hold the key to about 180 assembly seats in the polls scheduled next year. These districts – South 24 Parganas, North 24 Parganas, Murshidabad, Nadia, Howrah, Burdwan, East and West Medinipur, with 15-33 assembly seats each and a significant Muslim population – are the ones that the TMC believes will give an edge to the party in the assembly polls. The BJP’s limited gains in these districts in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and the TMC’s win in the bypolls held in 2019 in Kharagpur Sadar and district of Nadia, TMC leaders believe, are proof of the party’s enhanced popularity after the Lok Sabha polls.

According to the assessment of political strategist Prashant Kishor, who is advising the TMC chief and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on election strategy, just as it is impossible to win the country’s election without winning the big states, it would be difficult for the BJP to win West Bengal if it does not win half of the seats in the nine big districts of the state, and hence, the TMC is focusing on these districts. Kishor had tweeted last week that the BJP would struggle to cross double digits and vowed that he would leave political consultancy if it did.

As part of his election strategy, most of these big districts have been put under the control of “young, enterprising TMC leaders” in the past one year, and so the party has a good chance of consolidating its base here, according to a senior party leader. The TMC believes that though the BJP would make gains in these districts, it would find it difficult to win the districts entirely. The TMC, while aware that Medinipur, with the presence of leaders such as Dilip Ghosh and now Suvendu Adhikari, might lead to gains for the BJP, hopes to compensate for it with its own gains in Murshidabad, where it had a favourable showing in 2019.

“For the BJP to win more than 200 seats, it will have to considerably improve its Lok Sabha performance in the state, where it won 18 seats and restricted the TMC to 22 seats. Some of the districts such as 24 Parganas and Murshidabad have around 80 assembly seats that can compensate for the losses of the TMC in other parts of the state,” said a TMC member, who did not wish to be identified. The person said historically West Bengal has been won by those who won South Bengal, particularly the districts of Medinipur and 24 Parganas, where the BJP is just building its strength. Also, West Bengal has more Muslim voters than, say, Bihar or Uttar Pradesh, at almost 30 per cent, which the TMC believes will play a pivotal role in its continued success in the state.

TMC members conceded that the BJP could win seats in Junglemahal, North Bengal and Cooch Behar but said it would find it difficult to get 45 per cent vote share with the 100 per cent support of one community. BJP leaders, on the other hand, admitted that while areas such as Murshidabad and South 24 Parganas would pose a challenge, the party’s campaign in the coming months would address this. West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh, however, told ET that the TMC leaders were delusional to think the BJP would not penetrate the big districts.

“Lok Sabha results showed that there is no constituency in the state where the BJP has no support. In many places there was a tough fight, and the situation has greatly improved for us in the last one year,” he said. Ghosh added, though, that while the BJP can face a little challenge in places such as Murshidabad owing to a high Muslim population, the party is increasingly addressing those issues too, and plans to raise the pitch even more after January. “As far as Medinipur is considered, with me and Suvendu fighting on one side, our party will win here with no difficulty. Even in the Vidhan Sabha and bypolls there was a neck and neck fight,” he said.

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