The opposition Trinamool Congress (TMC) believes the highly coveted plainbelt region, which may be the deciding factor in the February 27 Assembly election, is within their grasp after witnessing one of the largest turnouts of supporters for Mamata Banerjee’s public rally in Rajabala, West Garo Hills District, on February 22.
The plainbelt region has the largest share of Muslim voters across the state, and they are known to vote en masse during elections. This particular vote bank starts from Tikrikilla constituency and spreads across the seats of Phulbari, Rajabala, and parts of Selsella and Ampati, before winding up in Mahendraganj, in South West Garo Hills.
Mukul Sangma, Leader of Opposition, who is the candidate for TMC, has long known the significance of the region, and is making a strategic decision to contest from Tikrikilla, besides Songsak in the East Garo Hills district.
He believes his decision to touch down at Tikrikilla will send a ripple effect across the region and draw the minority-led constituencies into the fold of TMC. This would leave the National People’s Party (NPP) to fight over the remaining constituencies across the hills.
While Mukul likens the NPP to be the arch-rival that needs to be cut to size in this election, for ‘Didi’, the BJP is a bigger threat at the national level.
Banerjee addressed the mammoth gathering at Rajabala, stating that a vote for NPP would only strengthen BJP further, and in a constituency where minorities matter, it could leave BJP gasping for air.
However, BJP has also laid eyes on the plainbelt: Prime Minister Narendra Modi debut his election rally for Garo Hills at Phulbari in 2018, where a record number of people turned up to hear him speak. Despite this, BJP drew a total blank across the region once votes were cast.
TMC is a favoured party amongst minorities in West Bengal, which gives it the experience needed to draw votes in their name. Banerjee has also used as leverage the language affinity, speaking in Bengali, which may come as a worry to NPP.
Adding to the tension is the ongoing ‘Blood and Soil’ propaganda war between the supporters of the two rival parties.
TMC supporters say this is a battle between a local ‘son of the soul’ with an ‘outsider’, referring to Abdus Saleh, the candidate for NPP, who had been the legislator for Mahendraganj constituency, before shifting base to Rajabala after the delimitation of constituencies.
Despite being branded an ‘outsider’, three years ago, Saleh won the bye-election to Rajabala against stiff competition from the Congress under Mukul.
However, Mukul and TMC’s strategy of expansion will also include a plan to contain the influence of Abu Taher Mondol, NPP’s candidate for Phulbari, and this may present itself as a stumbling block for the party. Mondol is a well-respected political figure in the plainbelt, whose writ runs high in the Phulbari region, where he is a favourite and expected to win his contestation.
Earlier, Conrad Sangma, President of NPP, surprised pundits by weaning away Mondol ahead of the announcement of polls, and thus giving the ruling party a tremendous boost in the plainbelt.
Yet, TMC’s well-oiled campaign machinery, and the passage of time, could undo the NPP in the plainbelt.
Conrad’s advantage is time – there are only three more days before all campaigning ends. However, three days can bear an eternity in political battles.