Congress leader Rahul Gandhi made his much-awaited campaign entry in Bengal on Wednesday. He kickstarted his poll campaign from the Lodhan School ground in Goalpokhar in Uttar Dinajpur district on the last date of campaigning for the fifth phase.
The fifth phase of polling will be conducted on April 17 and Congress is contesting 12 seats out of the 45 Assembly constituencies of north and central Bengal that will go to the polls.
In the 2016 assembly polls, Sanjukta Morcha (INC + Left alliance) had won 10, Trinamool Congress (TMC) 32 and Others 3 seats.
The Bharatiya Janata Party and the Trinamool Congress had shared honours in the 2019 general elections, with the saffron party leading in 22 and Mamata’s party in 23 seats. Sanjukta Morcha had drawn a blank in the Lok Sabha polls.
The former Congress president has begun his campaign in Bengal after four phases of polling have ended in the state. The party is contesting 92 seats in alliance with the Left and Indian Secular Front.
The Congress's vote share declined to 5.7 percent in the 2019 General Elections, but it still remains an important factor in Muslim-dominated districts such as Purulia, Malda and Murshidabad.
The Congress did not want to get exposed as it was fighting the Left parties in Kerala while being hand-in- glove with them in Bengal. Also, the party does not have any great prospects in Bengal so the Gandhis focussed on Assam and Kerala, instead.
All the while Rahul trained his guns on the BJP. "BJP wants to destroy and divide Bengal, they are doing the same thing in Assam and Tamil Nadu... BJP talks of building Sonar Bangla but has destroyed the entire country," Rahul said.
Later, addressing a rally in Darjeeling, Rahul launched an attack on the Central government over the COVID-19 situation in the country. "Last year in February, all Congress leaders and I collectively said to the PM that India is going to be affected by COVID. You start preparing to save the economy, migrant labourers and small-scale industry. Press mocked me and said I'm trying to scare people," he said.
Rahul and the Congress are confused as to who is their in Bengal. Normally, the Opposition parties attack the incumbent. Here you have an Opposition party (INC) attacking a competitor (BJP) which has emerged as the principal challenger to the incumbent (TMC).
Both, the Congress and the Left parties, have lost significant vote share to the BJP over the last few years in the state and this could be seen as an attempt to reclaim some of this.
Rahul and the Congress have been accused by the BJP of being soft on the TMC and having a tacit understanding with Mamata.
Seemingly, to neutralise this attack, Rahul hit out at TMC as well. “West Bengal is the only state where you have to pay cut money to get jobs," he claimed, adding, "We have never aligned with the BJP, but Mamata-ji has done it (in the past)."
Social media was abuzz with memes suggesting that the ‘real star campaigner of the BJP’ has arrived in Bengal — meaning Rahul Gandhi.
BJP sympathisers want Rahul to address more rallies so that the BJP gains.
The last-minute rally by Rahul for fifth phase might actually help the BJP. Here are the reasons:
Voters might actually feel that the Congress is not so hopeful in this phase and anti-TMC voters could back the BJP.
Rahul’s attack on the BJP and not the TMC pitches the two in main contest, people may not want to waste their votes on a Congress candidate
The undecided voters (usually 12%-15%) may not back the Congress as there is no hawaa in favour of the party.
Rahul is expected to do more rallies in the coming phases in Congress strongholds, mostly Muslim community-dominated seats. In these constituencies, a good campaign by Rahul could split the Muslim community votes and help the BJP snare a few seats.
To note, the BJP won many Muslim infuenced seats in Uttar Pradesh due to the division of votes. Mamata is cognisant of this fact and that is why had given a clarion call to the community not to divide its votes.
To sum up, Rahul finally landing in Bengal might not be bad news for the BJP, it might actually work in its favour.