The assembly elections in West Bengal will be held in eight phases phases between March 27 and April 29, the Election Commission said on Friday as it also announced the poll dates for Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry.
Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora said the first phase of polling would be held on March 27; the second phase on April 1; third phase on April 6; fourth phase on April 10; fifth phase on April 17; sixth phase polling on April 22, seventh phase on April 26 and the final and eighth phase of polling on April 29.
The number of polling stations in the state has also been increased from 78,903 to 1,01,790 this time around, keeping in view the Covid situation as well as law and order concerns. According to Election Commission data, about 6,400 polling booths are deemed sensitive in the state – the highest among the 5 states going to polls.
Of the five states that will go to polls, the eastern state is likely to see the most ferocious battle for power, and the two main contestants – the ruling TMC and the BJP – have already started high-pitched campaigns against each other over the last couple of months. The Left-Congress alliance is unlikely to make a mark.
On Friday, at least 125 companies of central security forces will also arrive in the state to maintain law and order during the election campaign. The early dispatch of central forces has taken the state administration by surprise.
The poll battle has developed into a fight between Bengali regionalism and Hindu nationalism. While Mamata Banerjee’s TMC has tried to project itself as the symbol of Bengali pride in this contest and the BJP as an “outsider”, the saffron party has campaigned on its Hindutva rhetoric and portrayed the TMC administration as one that appeases Muslims.
The BJP has emerged as the main challenger to Banerjee’s throne and the 2019 general elections showed the inroads it had made in the state, comfortably taking the no.2 slot with a 40 per cent vote-share that was only a little shy of Trinamool’s vote-share.
The TMC, which has to already contend with anti-incumbency after 10 years in power, has also faced setbacks as several prominent leaders have defected to the BJP, creating the perception that the party is gaining the edge. Many leaders from the Congress and the Left have also made the switch to the saffron party.
However, what will give comfort to Mamata Banerjee’s party is that BJP has failed to replicate its performance in Lok Sabha elections across several assembly elections. Banerjee is still the trump card and a stronger opponent than BJP has had to contend with in other states.