Continuing political violence in West Bengal before and during the Lok Sabha election is making political pundits wonder whether it demonstrates nervousness of the ruling Trinamool Congress or desperation on the part of BJP to make inroads into the state which has witnessed TMC''s supremacy in successive elections since it came to power in 2011.
Nowhere else in the country, including the politically most-important state of Uttar Pradesh, such violence was witnessed although contesting parties engaged in a bitter verbal duel.
The violence during polling in the previous phases of the Lok Sabha election in Bengal and in the roadshow of BJP president Amit Shah on Tuesday has raised several questions over their cause. While Shah called it an attempt to "strangulate democracy", Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has blamed BJP for engineering clashes by bringing toughs from U.P, Bihar and Jharkhand. She has also accused BJP of being ignorant of the culture of Bengal.
The roadshow in Kolkata saw an unprecedented saffron surge. Chanting "Jai Shri Ram", BJP supporters, dressed up as Lord Ram, Sita and Hanuman along with ''gada'' (mace), were all over the streets of the metropolis which boasts of distinct Bengali culture.
TMC seems to be worried about BJP''s emergence as its main political rival in the state which was demonstrated in successive by-elections when BJP substantially increased its vote share. The erosion of Left Front votes which stood at around 29 per cent in the last general election, is also a significant factor. If a sizeable chunk of these votes shifts to BJP this time, it could trigger a major concern in TMC. On some seats in by-elections such as in Cooch Behar in north Bengal, BJP had secured nearly 30 per cent votes. At several election rallies, Banerjee has accused CPI(M) of supporting BJP.
Another issue which might trouble TMC is infighting among its rank and file at many places. Some TMC activists have accused the party''s local unit leaders of preventing them from casting their ballot in the last panchayat polls out of suspicion that they might indulge in cross-voting.
Shah''s prediction that his party will bag 23 out of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal is unlikely to get reflected on the ground as the state has a sizeable 30 per cent Muslim population which has stood by TMC. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls when the Modi wave was at its peak, BJP had managed to secure about 17 per cent votes compared TMC''s 39 per cent, leaving a wide gap.
This time, however, BJP has put its might behind the campaign with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Shah, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adiytanath and other senior party leaders addressing rallies. BJP also brought Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, the party''s main architect in the North East, besides Sunil Deodhar, who was instrumental for BJP''s victory in Tripura, for electioneering. Shah, Deodhar and several other BJP leaders have said the poll results will be a surprise.
Banerjee has been whipping up the Bengali sentiment, saying that BJP is an outsider and will be given a fitting reply. The vandalisation of Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar''s statue during Shah''s roadshow has come handy for her though BJP claimed that it was the handiwork of TMC goons.
On its part. BJP has attempted to stir religious sentiments. Shah dared the TMC government to arrest him for chanting "Jai Shri Ram".
Bengal has always had a high voter turnout and this time too, the state witnessed around 80 per cent polling in the first six phases of the Lok Sabha election. The seventh and last phase of polling is due on May 19 and the focus will be May 23, the day of the counting of votes.
(The writer is a senior journalist and the views expressed are that of the author). (ANI)