Bengal Polls 2021: Will A ‘Mahagathbandhan’ Help Mamata?

Amitabh Tiwari
·6-min read

The Trinamool Congress (TMC) has called for the Left and Congress to rally behind Mamata Banerjee to combat the BJP. Both the parties have outrightly rejected the offer. The clarion call shows nervousness on the part of TMC as it is facing heat from a resurgent BJP in an era in which incumbent governments have a high probability of being voted out.

“If the Left Front and the Congress are genuinely anti-BJP, they should rally behind Mamata Banerjee in her fight against the communal and divisive politics of the saffron party,” senior Trinamool MP Sougata Roy told reporters last week. “TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee is the “real face of secular politics against the BJP,” he added.

TMC is facing a serious threat from the BJP in the state elections due in April-May 2021.

BJP, in the 2019 general elections, had won 18 out of 42 seats and recorded 40 percent vote share.

Bengal hosts the second highest Muslim population in the country, which could potentially make the elections highly polarised. Further, Bengal is one of the biggest testing grounds for the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC), as it shares a porous border with Bangladesh.

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How Left-Congress Combine Can ‘Cushion’ TMC On 2021 Bengal Polls

While a split of the Opposition vote should normally benefit the incumbent, the call is being made with an eye to prevent the split of minority votes. Muslims account for 27 percent of the population as per the 2011 census. Recent estimates put the figures at 30 percent. It is also an acknowledged fact that the turnout among the community is higher as compared to Hindus.

This (hypothetical) Mahagathbandhan (MGB) idea makes sense mathematically. While the gap between BJP and TMC in the general elections was only 3 percent, the coming together of the Left and Congress would provide TMC with a cushion of 10-15 percent vote share.

If these three parties had contested together in the 2019 general elections, the BJP would have won only 7 seats; its tally would have been down by 11.

Since TMC was born out of Congress in 1998, they were even alliance partners in 2011 when Mamata ended the 34-year-old CPM rule in Bengal; the vote shares are complementary and can be seamlessly transferred.

However, the same cannot be said of the Left vote, as the CPM and TMC have been principal opponents for the past decade. There could be significant leakages.

The call has been made primarily keeping the Muslim vote in mind. TMC received 65 percent of the community vote in 2019. The Congress (22 percent) and Left (5 percent) — contesting separately — received 27 percent minority support. If they join hands, TMC would gain around 8 percent vote share (27 percent x 30 percent) through community support.

It would also nullify the threat posed by AIMIM’s Owaisi.

Also Read: Bengal Polls: Prashant Kishor’s Open Challenge to BJP Leaders

Why Congress Wants TMC To ‘Merge’ With It In Bengal Polls

The Congress has traditional strongholds in Malda and Murshidabad districts which are minority-dominated. As per some reports, the Left-INC combine is likely to win 15-20 seats which will add to the TMC kitty in a close contest.

The Congress has laughed off the offer.

Instead it has asked TMC to merge with its parent party, as it is the Congress that is the number one opponent of the BJP nationally and not Trinamool.

“We are not interested in aligning with the TMC. Why is the TMC now interested in an alliance with us after poaching our MLAs over the last 10 years? If Mamata Banerjee is keen on fighting the BJP, then she should join the Congress as it is the only pan-India platform to fight against communalism,” said State Congress Chief Adhir Ranjan Choudhary.

Senior CPM leader Sujan Chakraborty wondered why the TMC was trying to woo the Left parties and the Congress after branding them as “negligible” political forces in West Bengal. He also said the BJP was trying to woo Left voters.

For the Left it will be suicidal. It has to decide who is its Enemy Number One — BJP or TMC? Though it has often been said that it’s actually the BJP — which has now taken over its significant vote share in the state — an alliance with TMC will be condemned by its cadre.

How can it ally with a party which ended its 34-year rule? How can its workers forget the bloodshed and killings, allegedly at the hands of TMC cadre?

Survey Bias Towards Incumbent Govts

Reacting to the development, State BJP President and Lok Sabha MP Dilip Ghosh said it reflected the TMC's "desperation''.

“They (the TMC) can't fight us alone, and so they are seeking help from other parties. It also proves that the BJP is the only alternative to TMC,” he added.

The statement by the TMC MP does show it is on a sticky wicket. The Congress and Left will benefit in the long term in the state if Mamata weakens. At a time when a hung assembly cannot be ruled out, the combine is also fancying its chances to be a kingmaker and then bargain hard with Mamata.

An ABP-CVoter opinion poll carried out on 18 January 2021 predicts a simple majority for the TMC. TMC is expected to bag 158 seats, 10 more than the simple majority. BJP is expected to win 102 seats, exceeding double digits and thus putting Prashant Kishor’s career in danger. The Left-Congress Mahajot is expected to win 28 seats.

We have seen in the past that the earlier surveys have a positive bias towards the incumbent government. NDA did much worse than projected in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and Bihar opinion polls.

Dissatisfaction With Mamata Govt

In Bihar, the earliest of the polls that too, by ABP-CVoter, had given 151 seats to NDA, while it actually struggled to cross the majority mark. It won 125 seats, 17 percent lower than projected. If the same error percentage is applied to TMC, its tally could reduce to 131 seats, 17 lower than majority and BJP’s could increase to 129 seats.

This shows that though TMC is ahead as per initial polls, there is about three months left for elections and things could drastically change. TMC knows this and that is why it has asked anti-BJP forces to come together. Left-INC Mahajot will provide TMC a buffer in a close contest.

The bad news for Mamata as per the survey is that the satisfaction levels with the performance of the state government are a meagre 37 percent, while 49 percent respondents are dissatisfied with the work.

This is an ominous sign for Mamata Banerjee and the TMC.

The most interesting of all the state elections this year is Bengal — and it has all the elements of a Bollywood potpourri. Let’s wait and watch.

(The author is an independent political commentator and can be reached at @politicalbaaba. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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