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Gangetic plains, Midnapore hold key to Lok Sabha polls in Bengal

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Kolkata, Mar 17 (PTI) With the stage set for yet another political showdown between Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress and the opposition BJP, two regions - Gangetic plains and Midnapore - seem to hold the key to the state's action-packed electoral battle.

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The Jalpaiguri region in North Bengal and the Matua belt in south Bengal are also important in the political landscape of the state.

The Lok Sabha polls in West Bengal, comprising 42 seats, will take place in seven phases, from April 19 to June 1. Counting is on June 4.

Out of the 42 seats, 10 are reserved for SC candidates and two for ST.

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In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the TMC won 22 seats, the Congress (2) and the BJP (18).

The Gangetic-plain region, which comprises five districts of North and South 24 Parganas, Kolkata, Howrah, and Hooghly, has 16 Lok Sabha seats out of which the BJP had won just three in the last Lok Sabha polls.

The TMC, which is known for its political dominance of this region, sensing anti-incumbency and non-performance of its candidates, this time has brought in new aspirants in six seats - three, two, and one respectively from North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas, and Hooghly.

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The TMC had swept the two districts of 24 Parganas in the 2021 assembly polls when the party had bagged 27 of the 33 seats in North 24 Parganas, and all but one seat in the minority-dominated South-24 Parganas.

It had also made a clean sweep by winning all the assembly seats in Kolkata, Howrah, and all but four in the Hooghly district.

Although the TMC has announced its candidates for all Lok Sabha seats in the state, the BJP announced candidates for only twenty seats and the Left Front, which is still in talks with the Congress for an alliance, has announced candidates for sixteen seats.

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The saffron party, which had made the citizenship law one of its poll planks during the last general election, was able to woo a section of the refugees, especially those from the Matua community, and the Bongaon Lok Sabha seat subsequently fell on its lap.

The BJP anticipates positive outcomes from the implementation of the CAA, while the TMC seeks to exploit the confusion surrounding it.

The TMC is concerned about the arrests of its senior ministers and alleged influential figures who managed organization and election affairs in South 24 Parganas, North 24 Parganas, and Kolkata.

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Jyoti Priya Mallick, responsible for North 24 Parganas, and Partha Chatterjee, overseeing party affairs in Kolkata and Hooghly, have been detained by central agencies due to their alleged involvement in scams.

Adding to their woes, the arrest of Arabul Islam, a prominent leader in Bhangore, and Shajahan Sheikh, currently in CBI custody for charges of sexual violence and land grabbing in the Sandeshkhali area within Basirhat Lok Sabha seat, further complicates matters for the TMC.

The BJP is concerned about its weak organisation and the absence of a strong leader to take on the TMC in the region.

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The Midnapore region, recognised as Bengal's tribal belt consisting of five districts - Bankura, Paschim Medinipur, Purba Medinipur, Purulia, and Jhargram- sends eight representatives to the Lok Sabha.

Out of the eight seats, the BJP won five and TMC bagged three in 2019 polls.

The balance of power in the region shifted in favour of BJP following Suvendu Adhikari's switch in 2021, despite TMC's resurgence and strengthened influence through welfare schemes targeted at tribal Kurmi and Mahato communities.

The Jangalmahal region witnessed unrest last year as members of the Kurmi community, which is a deciding factor in three seats, staged protests and blockades, advocating for ST status.

Both BJP and TMC have been treading cautiously with the ruling party forming a state Tribal Development Board and nominating a member of Mahato and Kurmi from two of the seats in the region.

Adding to BJP's woes, Kunar Hembram, a sitting MP from Jhargram seat, quit the party last week citing personal reasons.

The Jalpaiguri region, recognised as the hills and foothills of the state, consists of five districts - Alipurduar, Cooch Behar, Darjeeling, and Jalpaiguri, where the BJP won all the four Lok Sabha seats.

The region has become a stronghold of BJP since the 2019 LS elections, capitalising on discontentment among the populace regarding a feeling of alienation in North Bengal and calls for separate statehood and Union Territory status.

Although several of the BJP leaders had openly called for carving out a Union Territory from the North Bengal region, the TMC has gone to the town accusing the saffron camp of dividing the state.

The lack of effectiveness displayed by BJP MPs from the area is concerning, although the commitment to implementing the CAA in bordering districts is expected to be advantageous for the party.

In the Matua belt of Bengal, apart from Bongaon, the two seats of Nadia district, -Ranaghat and Krishnanagar, the CAA is likely to have an impact as both seats have a considerable Matua population.

In Nadia, the BJP had won whereas TMC's Mahua Moitra bagged the Krishnanagar seat.

The BJP has nominated sitting MP Jagganath Sarkar from Ranaghat, whereas the TMC has pitted BJP MLA Mukut Mani Adhikari, who switched camps recently.

It has renominated Moitra, who was expelled from Lok Sabha in a cash-for-query case, from the seat.

Political analyst Biswanath Chakraborty thinks control over Gangetic Plains will be the key to elections.

"With 16 seats, this region holds the key. And TMC has an advantage as BJP lacks strong organisation in the area," he said.

Political scientist Maidul Islam said although the TMC is in an advantageous position in this area, it is on the back foot over Sandeshkhali incidents.

"The TMC, although in an advantageous position, also has internal issues to deal with. Second, the BJP's track record in the regions of Midnapore and Jalpaiguri where it had swept last time is not very satisfactory," he said. PTI PNT MNB

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