After the formation of the Mamata Banerjee-led All India Trinamool Congress, an interesting electoral battle was fought in the historic constituency of Medinipur in south Bengal in the 1998 Lok Sabha election. It was the first four-way contest after the formation of the AITC where all the main political contenders in West Bengal fielded their candidates. While Indrajit Gupta of the CPI won handsomely, the other main players — the Congress, the AITC and the BJP — got a substantial number of votes, between 10 and 20 per cent. Two of the parties, the BJP and the AITC, had an electoral alliance, but this had not had the intended effect due to “a misunderstanding,” leaders said. Sixteen years later, West Bengal mirrors Medinipur as the Left Front, Congress, BJP and AITC have put up separate candidates in all the 42 seats in the State, thus triggering an inevitable question: who will cut into whose vote base in the first four-way contest in 16 years? This time, however, everyone refuses to misunderstand the other. Mamata Banerjee — the single most powerful politician in the State today — is under stress not only because it is the first multi-party contest in a long time, but also due to the fact that the AITC has never fought an election alone.
While the AITC allied itself with the BJP in the first half of the last decade, in the second half the party allied with the Congress. The Congress’ vote share — 13.45 per cent in the last Lok Sabha election — was crucial for Ms. Banerjee’s victory. Even in the 2011 Assembly election, the Congress got nearly 10 per cent of the votes. The other key puzzle is whether the BJP — which had 6.14 per cent in 2009 — will increase its vote percentage and cut into the AITC’s base owing to the Modi factor. The third imponderable is whether the Left Front — whose legislators and cadres are increasingly aligning with the AITC — will be able to retain their share, which was an emphatic 43.30 per cent in the 2009 election. However, in the last few years, Ms. Banerjee has not committed any major political blunders. While the issue of law and order in the State is snowballing, she has managed to somewhat control the disturbances in Darjeeling and the Maoist-dominated areas. Now, if she gets a mandate that will catapult her to a national role, Ms. Banerjee may actually play it up to boost West Bengal’s economy, which is heading for a disaster. On the other hand, the Opposition feels the AITC’s slide will start from 2014 owing to Ms. Banerjee’s bid to control every level of administration, and large-scale corruption. Whatever the result, there is little doubt that both the Left and the Right are contesting against one adversary in West Bengal — the Chief Minister of West Bengal. Ms. Banerjee herself has described it as a battle of “all against one.”