Kolkata, March 14 : Up against a strong challenge from the BJP and facing pockets of resistance from the Congress and the Left, the seatwise vulnerability index of West Bengal's ruling Trinamool Congress has gone up ahead of the coming Lok Sabha polls.

With the Bharatiya Janata Party emerging as the Trinamool's main opponent in most of the state's 42 seats, ensuring a direct fight between the two in over 75 per cent of the constituencies, political commentators feel upto 23-24 seats could have turned vulnerable for the Mamata Banerjee led outfit. However, the conservative estimate is considerably lower - 9-10.

The Incumbency factor could be high after eight years in power, and there is bound to be a change in public perception about Chief Minister Banerjee as against the high ratings she enjoyed as a rabble-rousing opposition leader, Bimal Shankar Nanda, a professor of political science, said.

"In addition to this, being in power at the centre, the BJP has become the centre of a centrepetal force, drawing anti-Trinamool leaders and workers who feel the saffron outfit can give them protection from physical violence and other forms of torture by the Trinamool," Nanda told IANS.

"I see close battles in 23-24 seats, from the Northern Himalayan Bengal, upto the Sundarban forests," added Nanda, who teaches at the Charu Chandra College.

He said that in the north, retaining Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar and Cooch Behar could be a tough call for the Trinamool, considering the BJP's penetration in the tea gardens, Dooars region and the plains there.

As far as Darjeeling is concerned, Nanda felt the BJP would do well to replace its incumbent MP and union minister S.S. Ahluwalia with a Nepali-speaking leader.

Raiganj in North Dinajpur district presents interesting possibilities. While the BJP has increased its influence considerably in the area after building up an agitation over the killing of a student at Darivit, incombent MP Mohammad Salim of the CPI-M is known as a gritty fighter.

"With the Congress leaving the seat for the CPI-M, it could be anybody's game. Even the Trinamool may win if it can draw a sizeable chunk of Congress votes," Nanda said.

According to Nanda, the BJP will give a good fight to the Trinamool in South Dinajpur district's Balurghat and Malda district's Malada North, the Congress was comfortably placed in neighbouring Murshidabad district's Baharampur and Jangipur was a 50:50 tussle between the Congress and the Trinamool. The CPI-M could have the upper hand in Murshidabad, provided the Congress does not put up a dummy candidate.

The BJP was banking heavily on winning in its traditional stronghold of Krishnanagar, while the other Nadia district seat, Ranaghat, could also see a close fight between the saffron outfit and the Trinamool.

After a good show in last year's rural body polls, the BJP is likely to give the Trinamool a run for its money in Bankura and Bishnupur seats of Bankura district. Incidentally, in Bishnupur, incumbent Trinamool MP Soumitra Khan has defected to the BJP.

In Burdwan district, BJP won in Asansol last time around, and is still a strong force there, said Nanda.

In tribal dominated West Midnapore and Purulia districts, the BJP came up with an impressive performance in the Panchayat polls and the Purulia, Midnapore and Jhargram seats could prove to be a headache for the Trinamool.

Kolkata North is another seat where the BJP did very well last time and can be the party to watch out for. The BJP has also got deeply entrenched organisationally in the Howrah seat - considered mini India for its mixed demographics - and the Trinamool would have a battle on hand to retain it.

In North 24 Parganas district's Bangaon and Barasat - close to the India-Bangladesh border - the BJP is a strong force as it is likely to vigorously raise issues like infiltration and the need for a National Register of Citizens to woo a substantial section of the people. Basirhat is another seat where the BJP has become a force to reckon with after the communal clashes in 2017, which is believed to have led to some sort of polarisation in the constituency.

Last but not the least, in South 24 Parganas district, the Left Front-spearhead CPI-M could come up with a good show if it names a good candidate, said Nanda, adding the BJP would be engaged in a close duel with the Trinamool in Joynagar and Mathurapur and cannot be wished away even in Diamond Harbour, where Mamata Banerjee's nephew Abhishek Banerjee is again the Trinamool nominee.

However, according to political scientist Udayan Bandopadhyay, the Trinamool faces a challenge in only around 10 seats. According to him, the Congress had a good chance to retain Jangipur and Baharampur, while the BJP would give a good fight in Raganj and Krishnanagar.

"Jhargram and Purulia are also tough seats for the Trinamool. The BJP had done very well in the Panchayat election in the areas covered by these two constituencies. It seems there won't be seat adjustment between the Congress and the LF in Purulia. So there will be an interesting four-cornered contest," Bandopadhyay said.

He described Bankura and Kolkata North as two other seats which are vulnerable for the Trinamool because of the BJP's advance.

"I think the CPI-M may pull out a surprise in Jadavpur," Bandopadhyay added.

(Sirshendu Panth can be contacted at s.panth@ians.in)

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