With the Left Front and the Congress yet to firm up any alliance, the fight for the Lok Sabha polls in West Bengal is fast developing into a direct contest between the ruling Trinamool Congress and the opposition BJP.
As against the hive of activity in the Trinamool and the BJP camps, there is virtual ennui in the LF and Congress ranks, save occasional media meets, and some tweets from the leaders.
The two forces are locked in what has seemingly become long-drawn sit adjustment talks, now stalled over the Congress' adamant refusal to part with two seats - Raiganj and Murhidabad, won by LF major CPI-M five years ago.
After negotiations among state leaders failed to break the ice, both sides decided to lob the contentious matter to their chiefs. It is now for Congress president Rahul Gandhi and CPI-M General Secretary Sitaram Yechury to sit across the table and try to find a formula acceptable to their respective party units that could save the alliance from the brink.
Congress leaders admit that the formation of the alliance is crucial to ensure the Congress and the Left remain relevant.
"We badly need the alliance. Otherwise, it will be a direct fight between the BJP and the Trinamool," said a state Congress vice president on condition of anonymity.
"But if the seat adjustment talks succeed, the BJP will be pushed on the backfoot," he added.
But the BJP pooh-poohed such talks, saying they will gain in case of a triangular fight.
"It is surely a direct fight between the BJP and the Trinamool. It is a fight of equals," BJP General Secretary in-charge of West Bengal Kailash Vijayvargiya told IANS.
"The CPI-M and the Congress are far, far behind. In fact, they are nowhere. It is for this reason that they are trying to work out an alliance. But take it from me. Even if there is a triangular fight, we will be the beneficiary," he said.
Apparently, the BJP's calculation is based on hopes for a likely division in Muslim votes - which otherwise could mostly go the Trinamool way - that the LF-Congress alliance can bring about. The party feels that in such a scenario, it could fare well in seats with a mixed population by projecting itself as the only party upholding the Hindu cause or by canvassing loudly on issues like infiltration and national security.
While Shah has set a target of winning at least 23 of the 42 seats up for grabs from the state, Vijayvargiya prophesied his party could go past the figure. The BJP had won two seats - Asansol and Darjeeling - in 2014.
"We will surely go beyond the number set by Shah," he said.
On the ground, BJP campaign managers have identified 17-18 "winnable seats" where the party would focus during the campaign.
The party had finished second or third in these seats five years back and even improved its vote share in subsequent by-polls in some of them.
"But these seats do not include Asansol and Darjeeling," said a leader.
As part of the party's Look East policy for the Lok Sabha polls, the BJP has been pulling out all stops to better its show in Bengal - an erstwhile red citadel where the Communist Party of India-Marxist led Left Front enjoyed power for 34 years at a stretch (1977-2011).
The constituencies thus identified include Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar, Malda North and Malda South, Jhargram, Midnapore, Bolpur, Birbhum, Purulia, Howrah, Hooghly, Diamond Harbour, Barrackpore, Dum Dum, Basirhat, Krishnanagar, Kolkata North and Kolkata South.
(Sirshendu Panth can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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