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West Bengal Panchayat Election Results: A Ray Of Hope For Left And Congress In BJP's Decline

The panchayat elections were seen as a major test for the TMC ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. The party has been in power in West Bengal for more than a decade now but faces an increasing challenge from the opposition BJP.

WB Panchayat polls
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More than fifty persons from all parties lost their lives in a series of violent incidents during the just-concluded Panchayat Elections in West Bengal. Amid the violence, the Trinamool Congress, the Left and the Congress received a significant boost from the results, ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. The Bharatiya Janata Party, on the other hand, witnessed a decline in vote share from the 2021 Assembly Elections in West Bengal. Since the State Election Commission announced the dates, this election had become more than just an ‘election’. The BJP and the Congress had demanded that central forces be roped-in in the hope of a peaceful and fair election; the Left had called for the Election Commission to be more watchful and accountable.

Since the nomination day, several violent incidents were reported in Bhangar, a TMC bastion in South 24 Parganas, currently controlled by Indian Secular Front MLA Naushad Siddiqui. Despite a spate of violence in many areas, the number of nominations among opposition parties witnessed an increase from the 2018 Panchayat elections, when the TMC had won 34% of the seats uncontested. Following the nominations, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury of the Congress and Opposition leader Suvendu Adhikari of BJP petitioned the Calcutta High Court out of concern about a repeat of the 2018 panchayat elections. The high court ruled in favour of the Opposition and directed the deployment of central forces in accordance with the 2013 Panchayat elections. 

However, violence continued during this election as well, with several people being killed in clashes between supporters of different parties. Out of the people who died, 32 were from TMC, six from BJP, seven from Congress, four from Left, and three from ISF. Ten deaths each were reported from Murshidabad and South 24 Parganas, the highest number. The Election Commission has ordered an investigation into the violence.

The panchayat elections were seen as a major test for the TMC ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. The party has been in power in West Bengal for more than a decade now but faces an increasing challenge from the opposition BJP. Violence in the panchayat elections has raised concerns about the state of democracy in West Bengal, and BJP leaders often use it to call for the imposition of the President's Rule. The Election Commission has also been criticised for its handling of the elections.

Gain and Loss

According to the results, with a vote share of 54.9%, TMC has won all twenty Zilla Parishads. The party has also won a majority of seats in gram panchayats and panchayat samitis. Notably, Rajbanshis of North Bengal, tribals of North Bengal and Jangalmahal, Kurmis of Jangal Mahal, and Matuas of South Bengal are among the traditional support bases that the TMC snatched away from the BJP this election. TMC won major seats in Gram Panchayats, Panchayat Samitis and Zilla Parishads in Alipurduar, where BJP’s John Barla is a Member of Parliament and a Union Minister, and all the MLAs of the district are from the BJP. Additionally, the minority-dominated Malda and Murshidabad districts saw a considerable decline in vote share losses for the incumbent party.

Only three Zilla Parishad seats were won by the opposition in the Greater Kolkata region – the BJP won two seats in Hooghly, and surprisingly, in Bhangar, of the Greater Kolkata region, where TMC has been strong since its inception, the ISF-backed Muslim candidate won a ZP seat, in a first time for any opposition party. More surprisingly, Arabul Islam, a first-time (2006) former TMC MLA from Bhangar, was defeated on his own turf.

With vote share falling from 38% in 2021 to 24% in this election, the BJP struggled in nearly every district. In a few districts, such as Purba Medinipur, BJP won 14 of the 70 Zila Parishad seats and in Cooch Behar, they managed to hold onto their seat share. The Member of Parliament, Union Minister, and President of the Matua Mahasangh Shantanu Thakur and his brother, MLA Subrata Thakur, lost their booths in the Matua belt in North 24 Parganas. Bhushan Modak, district president of BJP in Alipurduar, could not retain the gram panchayat seat in this election. Of the six BJP MLAs in Cooch Behar, three of them were defeated in their respective booths, most notably in Sitalkuchi, where during the 2021 Assembly elections, central forces opened fire, costing four innocent lives. The local BJP MLA Baren Chandra Barman was defeated in his own booth. According to critics, the drop in BJP's vote share was caused by their increased attention to the ED, CBI, and High Court lawsuits than their organisation, whereas the TMC's Nabojoyar Yatra assisted them in regaining the trust of their party members amidst several corruption allegations.

Compared to the Assembly elections in 2021, Left and Congress gained ground with a 20% vote share (combined) in this election. They also did well in the Greater Kolkata area (North & South 24 Parganas, Howrah, Hooghly), where they received 15% of the vote, and the Central Bengal region (Nadia, Birbhum, Purba & Paschim Bardhaman), with a 27% vote share. Left and Congress earned a substantial vote share of 38% in Murshidabad, followed by 31% in Malda, and drove BJP to third place. Earlier this year, the Bogtui mass murder shocked the state of Bengal. And this election, the deceased's family members contested on a BJP ticket, and one of the candidates got only thirty-two votes. TMC won all the seats in Bogtui despite the BJP's attempts to promote one of the Bogtui murder victim's relatives, Mihilal Sheikh, as the district minority face, and the Muslim outreach once again failed.

Road Ahead

With a vote share of 54.9% in this panchayat election (Gram Panchayat, Panchayat Samiti, and Zilla Parishad), TMC received a significant boost before the 2024 Lok Sabha election in rural Bengal. Shifting the agenda occasionally from Hindu-Muslim in the 2021 Assembly election to corruption, unemployment etc, in 2023, BJP is struggling to be a credible opposition in Bengal. In rural Bengal, the BJP's vote share decreased significantly from 38.10% in 2021 to 24.10% in 2023. Together, the Left and Congress increased their share of the vote from 9.80% in 2021 to 19.50% in the 2023 panchayat election, giving them a chance to play a significant role in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections in 2024. Launch of the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) in Bengaluru, where twenty-six parties, including the TMC, CPM, and Congress, were present and issues like the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) may make it impossible for the BJP to retain its current number of Lok Sabha seats from Bengal in the forthcoming elections.

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The author would like to thank The Enigmous for the data inputs.

Data source: State Election Commission, West Bengal

(Sumanta Roy is a Doctoral Candidate at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.)

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