The West Bengal Assembly elections of 2021 has passed its half-way mark and phase 5 of the eight-phase elections is scheduled for Saturday, 17 April. Forty-five constituencies across six districts are going to vote in this phase. These are the districts of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Jalpaiguri in north Bengal and the districts of Nadia, Purba Bardhaman and North 24 Parganas in south Bengal.
While the Hills of north Bengal have been a BJP bastion since before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, with the BJP winning all Hills seats in that election, the other three districts have largely remained TMC bastions. Here's all you need to know about this phase of polling.
Will Gurung Factor Channel Votes Towards TMC?
In the season of defections leading up to the elections, the TMC's only star acquisition from the BJP’s side was Bimal Gurung.
Gurung is a senior leader of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), a Hills party that has aggressively (sometimes violently) pressed for the demand of Gorkhaland – a separate state for the Gorkha community.
Gurung went underground after massive riots and violence in Darjeeling in 2017, which caused a 104-day shutdown in the region. He was wanted by the West Bengal government on multiple charges at the time. While underground, Gurung, a mass leader in the hills, extended his support to the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
With his support, the saffron party won all Lok Sabha seats in Darjeeling and the Hills and also won the subsequent bypolls to the Darjeeling seat.
After the 2017 riots, the GJM split into two factions – one led by Gurung that sided with the BJP and the other led by Binay Tamang that sided with the TMC.
In the 2019 bypolls, Tamang contested the Darjeeling assembly seat as an independent against Gurung-backed Niraj Zimba of the BJP and was defeated.
In November 2020, however, Gurung made a surprise visit to Kolkata and finally came back to public life. With his return to active politics, he pledged support to Mamata Banerjee and the TMC, stating that the the BJP had “done nothing for Gorkhaland”.
The 2019 bypolls were also an indication that between Gurung and Tamang, the former was the bigger mass leader. Depite Gurung's return and alliance with the TMC, the two factions of the GJM have not reconciled. However, TMC's hoping that Gurung's sway among the masses will help it reclaim the three seats in the Hills that were left vacant by the party for GJM candidates.
Apart from the hills, Gurung is massively popular among the Gorkha voters in the other regions of north Bengal, like Terai and Dooars, where he has extensively campaigned.
Urban Centres in North 24 Parganas Hold Key For BJP
Sixteen constituencies are going to polls in the North 24 Parganas district in the fifth phase of elections. The key here, though, is that many of these constituencies, like Dum Dum, Bidhannagar, Rajarhat-Newtown, etc, are urban centres where the BJP put up a tough fight against the TMC in the 2019 polls.
Both parties have fielded seasoned players for this leg. For example, TMC stalwart Madan Mitra is contesting from Kamarhati, whereas sitting MLA Sujit Bose is contesting from Bidhannagar. Similarly, BJP Vice-President Raju Banerjee is contesting against Mitra while ex-TMC mayor Sabyasachi Dutta is contesting for the BJP in Bidhannagar.
In these urban seats, the BJP is trying to draw Hindibhashi (Hindi-speaking) voters while in rural areas like, Minakhan, Hingolganj, Deganga, Sandeshkhali etc, which were severely affected by Cyclone Amphan, the party is using TMC’s alleged corruption as a poll plank.
TMC's ‘celebrity candidate’ singer Aditi Munshi is also contesting in this phase from the Rajarhat-Gopalpur constituency.
Close Fight in Nadia and Purba Bardhaman Seats
Eight constituencies each from Nadia and Purba Bardhaman districts are going to polls in this phase.
In some of these seats, like the two in Nadia's Ranaghat, the BJP performed well in 2019, winning the Ranaghat parliamentary seat.
In the 2019 elections, the TMC’s loss in these districts was attributed to massive fighting and factionalism within the party. Since then, the TMC has made concerted efforts to bring organisational order in these districts.
Both these districts also saw many defections from the TMC to the BJP in the run up to the elections. Observers feel that in both these districts, the fight will come down to who displays better organisational strength on voting day.
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