India will get the answer to this million-dollar question today as the counting of votes for the 292 seats in West Bengal that moved to the polls in eight phases started at 8 am. The result will determine whether Mamata Banerjee, who has been in rule for 10 years and is battling the hardest election of her political career, has been able to thwart the challenge by the battle-hardened election army of the BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah.
Votes counting across West Bengal’s 294 seats started on Sunday morning with the state anxiously waiting for the big judgement after a month-long polling phase. As of 8:51am, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) was leading in 55 seats and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 51 seats, according to early trends that pointed a neck-and-neck fight. To be obvious, postal ballots are counted first.
Exit polls have predicted a cliff-hanger contest, true to the way the election process has progressed in the politically crucial condition. Six out of nine exit polls gave Banerjee’s party an upper hand in the election battle, while the rest anticipated that the BJP had an advantage. All exit polls forecast that the BJP was set to make huge gains in Bengal.The run-up to the eight-phase polls and the month-long voting exercise in the state were packed with thundering rallies, high-pitched war of words and a series of controversies that catapulted Bengal to the centre stage of national politics.
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah led the BJP’s charge, Banerjee tried to set up a spirited defence in her bid for a third straight period. The BJP leadership has set an aim of winning at least 200 of the state’s 294 seats. On the other hand, the TMC maintains its opponent will not cross the three-figure mark.Development, polarisation, caste politics, corruption, infiltration and a clash of cultures have dominated the political rhetoric.The BJP has promised all-round development in the state, accused the TMC of rampant corruption and appeasement politics, and promised to stop infiltration through the Bangladesh border. The TMC has denied all charges and termed the BJP a party of “outsiders” that did not understand Bengal’s issues.
According to analysts, the BJP has focused on consolidating Hindu votes cutting across caste lines, while the TMC has tried to appeal to the larger idea of Bengaliness.Both sides have petitioned the Election Commission against the other on a number of occasions, with the TMC alleging the poll watchdog of working under the pressure of the Centre’s ruling BJP. A massive controversy erupted in the state after four people were killed in firing by central forces in Cooch Behar’s Sitalkuchi during the fourth phase of polling.