The election assumes significance for political parties as it will serve as an opportunity for them to assess their organisational strengths and weaknesses ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, besides broadly outlining the mood of the state after two years of the TMC government’s third consecutive term.
Various parts of West Bengal have witnessed widespread violence leading to the death of over a dozen people, including a teenager., since the day the polls were announced on June 8. The polls to elect representatives for village councils are being held under the watchful eyes of central forces for the second time since the inception of the Panchayati Raj system in Bengal in the late seventies. Nearly 65,000 active central police personnel and 70,000 state police personnel are deployed for the polls, officials said.
Chief Minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee and the party’s national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee led the party’s campaign while stressing the need to shun strong-arm tactics by its cadres and allow more democratic space to the political opponents, to avoid the rerun of the 2018 rural polls when it had won around 34 per cent seats uncontested.
BJP state president Sukanta Majumdar, national vice-president Dilip Ghosh, and leader of opposition Suvendu Adhikari led the saffron party’s campaign, whereas state Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and CPI(M) state secretary Mohammed Salim led their parties’ respective poll drives.
The Indian Secular Front (ISF), with its limited presence in parts of North and South 24 Parganas, too grabbed headlines as its leader and lone MLA Nawsad Siddique led the party’s campaign, which often resulted in clashes with the ruling TMC in Bhangor in South 24 Parganas.
For the first time, Raj Bhavan played an active role in addressing the issue of poll violence, with Governor C V Ananda Bose opening a ‘Peace Home’ at the governor’s house to address complaints of the aam aadmi. The Governor was seen rushing to violence-hit areas to assuage the victims and their families, drawing a pat from the BJP and criticism from the ruling TMC.
In the 2013 panchayat polls, the TMC won over 85 per cent of the seats, despite heavy deployment of central forces.
In the 2018 rural polls, the TMC won 90 per cent of the panchayat seats and all the 22 zilla parishads. However, these elections were marred by widespread violence and malpractices, with the opposition alleging they were prevented from filing nominations in several seats.
The rural polls, which cover nearly 65 per cent of the state’s population, also provide parties with a final opportunity to assess their booth-level organisation ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, as most of the 42 parliamentary seats are situated in rural areas of the state.