The much-talked-about West Bengal Assembly elections start on Saturday with polling in 30 Assembly seats in five districts where the BJP had performed exceptionally well in the 2018 panchayat elections and the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Even though the state's ruling party, the Trinamool Congress, swept this belt in the 2016 Assembly elections, this time the BJP is being considered the favourite in the majority of the seats.
Of these 30 seats are nine of the Purulia and four of Jhargram, districts the whole of which are going to the elections in a single phase. Besides, four seats from Bankura, six from East Midnapore, and seven from West Midnapore will poll on Saturday, when 73,80,942 voters are to decide the fate of 191 candidates in these 30 seats.
In 2016, the TMC had won 27 of these 30 seats, while one went to the Left and two to the Congress. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP led over the TMC in 20 of these seats, while the TMC led in 10.
However, among the seats where the TMC led in the Lok Sabha are also a few where Suvendu Adhikary, the party heavyweight who switched over to the BJP in December 2020, held significant influence. This has turned the contest closure in those seats, such as Kanti Uttar, Dakshin, and Egra in the East Midnapore district.
The election commission had deployed 732 companies of central paramilitary forces for these constituencies.
The area is covered by the whole of Purulia and Jhargram Lok Sabha and parts of Bishnupur, Medinipur, Ghatal and Kanthi Lok Sabha seats. Of them, the BJP won Jhargram, Purulia, Bishnupur and Medinipur, while the TMC won Kanthi and Ghatal. But the TMC's Kanthi MP, veteran party leader and Suvendu Adhikary's father, Sisir Adhikary, recently joined the BJP following his son's footsteps.
The BJP, therefore, expects to improve its 2019 Lok Sabha performance by bagging more the 20 seats from this lot.
The TMC's Jhargram candidate Birbaha Hansda, a Santali actress both of whose parents were Jharkhand Party MLAs, said that the Assembly election results would be different from that of the Lok Sabha.
"The context is different. The goals are different. People want the TMC government to stay and continue with its good work," Hansda said.
Visits to some of these areas revealed a strong wave of anti-incumbency against the Mamata Banerjee government.
In Jhargram Assembly seat, from which the BJP's Jhargram district unit president Sukhamay Satpathi is contesting, has been covered with the BJP's flags, which outnumbered the TMC's flags in large parts of the constituency.
In Assembly seats like Khejuri and Garbeta, the traditional left votes that went to the BJP may play the deciding role, as there is the possibility of a section of these voters shifting their votes back to the Left parties. From Garhbeta, for CPI(M) heavyweight and Left Front minister Sushanta Ghosh is contesting. He was back in his locality a few months ago after spending months in jail and the subsequent days outside his own locality due to court-imposed prohibitions in connections with cases of murder slapped on him during the Mamata Banerjee regime. His return has infused enthusiasm on a section of the former Left supporters, indicating a triangular contest in this seat.
Bagmundi in Purulia district is another seat that is likely to witness a triangular contest, as the Congress' candidate Nepal Mahato has been a four-time MLA, still enjoying significant popularity.
Most of the other seats going to the polls in the first phase are likely to witness bipolar contests between the TMC and the BJP.