It’s official now. From March 27, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee will fight to defend her fortress of 10 years against the aggressive BJP in West Bengal. The side-switching by some of the prominent faces from the ruling Trinamool Congress to the BJP has juxtaposed Prime Minister Narendra Modi party as a primary challenger to ‘Didi (sister)’, who now has become the ‘Beti (daughter)’ of Bengal to give the ‘insider’ twist to elections in the state.

For the BJP, which hardly had any footprint in the state largely dominated by either the Left Front till 2011, and then Mamata Banerjee, the major gains in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections were the first hint that 2021 would prove to be a big challenge for the Trinamool, and it is. Now it remains to be seen how the elections pan out in West Bengal, where Mamata has been ruling riding the ‘Maa, Maati Maanush’ wave (which translates into ‘mother, land and people’ and refers to the Trinamool’s emotion-laden war cry). 

Also read: From ‘Didi’ to ‘Beti’, decoding Mamata Banerjee’s new poll slogan

Having won just three seats in the West Bengal Assembly election 2016, a lead in over 120 segments in the Lok Sabha election 2019 was a big leap. The BJP was ahead in just 23 assembly segments in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. The BJP walked away with 18 of 42 Lok Sabha seats. The chief minister’s party had to settle for 22 but what was striking was the difference between their vote share – 40% of the BJP versus 43% of the Trinamool.

“People of Bengal have decided to vote for change and there is perceptible support for the BJP. We are confident that the BJP will win more than 200 seats and form the next government in Bengal,” said BJP’s IT cell head Amit Malviya, who is also the state co-in-charge of Bengal, along with Kailash Vijayvargiya and Arvind Menon.

In the 294-member West Bengal assembly, a party needs to win 148 seats to secure a majority.

Dismissing Bengal’s ‘beti’ pitch of Mamata Banerjee, Malviya said: “There is no resonance for Mamata Banerjee as Bengal’s daughter. If at all, she has failed the mothers and daughters of the state, with soaring crime against women, falling education levels and lower participation in the labour force. She has pushed the state behind by decades. Bengal now wants to be part of the New India growth story.”

Welcoming the Election Commission’s announcement of election dates, he said this will ensure that a “level playing field” is created and it will put an end to “TMC’s misuse of police and administration in the state for political purposes.”

Seemingly rattled, Mamata Banerjee seems to be desperately trying to reinforce her Hawaii-slipper-wearing commoner image among voters.  

The Trinamool chief, who had back-to-back setbacks with the exit of top leaders like Dinesh Trivedi, Mukul Roy, Arjun Singh, Suvendu Adhikari, Rajib Banerjee, Baishali Dalmiya, Shilbhadra Dutta, Karibul Islam, Shyamaprasad Mukherjee, Banasree Maiti and Prabir Ghosal from her party, has made sharp attacks on the BJP leaders accusing them of “political tourism”.

“I will be the goalkeeper in assembly polls and the BJP will not be able to score a single goal,” she said at a rally in Hooghly, adding that “no Modi or Gujarat will rule Bengal, only Bengal will rule Bengal.”

The chief minister is not just facing the Modi juggernaut but also a threat from Furfura Sharif cleric Pirzada Abbas Siddiqui, in alliance with AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi, who wants to play the role of kingmaker by influencing about 30 per cent Muslim voters who have been loyal to Mamata so far. The Congress-Left alliance, however, is just aimed at keeping the two parties electorally relevant in Bengal.

Mamata Banerjee is also fighting huge anti-incumbency issues with her back to the wall— largely on account of several omissions and commissions of her regime. Her party has earned notoriety for alleged political extortions, cut money and operation of “syndicates” by Trinamool Congress leaders. Political violence and the killings of opposition leaders and workers have also put the chief minister’s party on the backfoot. More than 130 of its cadres, BJP says, have been killed by the “goons” of the ruling party.

Also read: Will contest upcoming West Bengal polls from Nandigram seat: CM Mamata Banerjee

The elections to five state assemblies of West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry will be held from March 27 to April 29 and the results will be announced on May 2. Bengal will vote in eight phases starting March 27.