Shortly after election dates were announced for four states and a Union Territory, an outraged Mamata Banerjee alleged that the eight-phase voting in Bengal was part of a “conspiracy” by the Centre’s ruling BJP.
“From BJP party sources, I have seen the list of poll dates they wanted. And now I have seen the list out in the public. They are the same. I am sorry. I am shocked. Are Bengal poll dates suggested by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah?” the Chief Minister questioned.
Bengal will begin voting on March 27 but unlike Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry, it will have eight phases spread over a record 33 days before the May 2 results.
“I am the only one woman chief minister in the country… I will win… and then Modi and Shah, you watch the battle in the 2024 general elections. We will fight it and how,” Ms Banerjee said, adding, “you will face the music for this blunder.”
Bengal voted in seven phases in the 2016 state election and in the 2019 national polls. The Election Commission said the reason for more phases was concerns over possible violence.
“When we have an assessment of law and order, we have an assessment based on several factors. We have to see movement of forces, we have to see current charges and counter charges. We have to find a way out,” Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora told reporters.
“In 2016 and 2019, the polls were held in seven phases. Eight phases in not such a big jump,” he added.
Mamata Banerjee accused the BJP of dictating the poll schedule. “States with almost the same number of seats were voting on a single day. Why is Bengal being humiliated”, she wondered.
Among the issues that have particularly irked her is that polls will be held in some districts over several phases. She suspects a motive.
“South 24 Parganas will vote over three phases. Why? Because we are strong in that district? Why half-half district election every day? Is this on the advice of Modi and Shah? So that they can come and campaign here after they finish with Assam and Tamil Nadu? This is a khela (sport) but we will defeat you and turn you into ghosts. We are people of the grassroots,” she declared.
Her nephew, Abhishek Banerjee is MP from Diamond Harbour in South 24 Parganas district. BJP has been targeting him in their poll campaigns.
“I am Bengal’s daughter. I am in politics for 40 years. I know every district, every assembly seat. Whatever you do, I will smash your conspiracy. People of Bengal will rule Bengal. People of Bengal will avenge this insult of eight phase polls,” she added.
Beside multiple phase elections in many districts, what has angered Mamata Banerjee is the deployment of two special police observers to the state, including Vivek Dubey. “He was here in 2019 also and we know all the drama he did and games that he played.” she said.
Around 1,200 central paramilitary troops are on patrol in Bengal already, which saw a spurt in political violence and killings ahead of the 2018 panchayat polls, violence that continued over the past two years.
The BJP welcomed the dates. The party has invested heavily in winning Bengal, especially after 2019, when it stunned the Trinamool Congress by scoring 18 of 42 Lok Sabha seats. That tally was 16 more than 2014. In the 2016 state polls, the BJP got just three seats and the Trinamool 211. But as per the 2019 results, the score was 124 assembly segments for the BJP and 164 for the Trinamool.
PM Modi and Amit Shah, besides other top BJP leaders, have prioritized Bengal in their campaign schedule. Most of these visits have seen large defections from the Trinamool Congress to the BJP.
BJP state chief Dilip Ghosh said, “Now that the model code of conduct will kick in and central security forces will be on the streets, please expect more defections from the Trinamool to the BJP. We are ready for the polls and victory in Bengal.”