BJP disses exit poll predictions on Bengal, accepts those on Assam

Exit polls predict West Bengal may be too close to call; suggest a sweep for the DMK in Tamil Nadu; LDF’s return to power in Kerala; win for the National Democratic Alliance in Puducherry; and say the party is likely to return to power in Assam

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has rejected the exit polls that predict West Bengal may be too close to call while accepting the prediction that the party was likely to return to power in Assam. The exit polls for the latest round of assembly elections also suggest a sweep for the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in Tamil Nadu, Left Democratic Front (LDF)’s return to power in Kerala, and win for the National Democratic Alliance in Puducherry.

BJP general secretary and West Bengal in-charge Kailash Vijayvarghia insisted the party will form the government in West Bengal with a comfortable majority. “These companies that carry out exit polls based on interaction with people on the ground are not completely familiar with the dynamics of the state. There is a history of violence in Bengal. A lot of people are afraid of voicing their opinion freely. One must also remember that West Bengal has the highest percentage of silent voters. It is anywhere between 18 to 20%.”

Vijayvarghia added there was a perception in 2011 that the Left Front would return to power, but the Trinamool Congress (TMC) emerged as the winner. “Those who vote for the party in power are vocal about it but those who vote for the opposition tend to remain silent out of fear,” he said.

Party leaders cited the 2019 exit polls that failed to predict that the BJP would win 18 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal and emerge as the second-largest party in the state. The latest exit polls indicate that the BJP could win up to 140 seats in the 292-member assembly. Only the Republic TV-CNX poll gives the BJP an edge over the TMC. It has predicted 138-148 seats for the BJP and 124-138 seats for the TMC.

The polls in West Bengal were arguably the most bitterly fought in recent times as the BJP pulled out all stops in its campaign with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah leading from the front. Shah, who was BJP’s chief strategist for West Bengal polls, has been claiming the party will bag 200 plus seats and form the government in the state for the first time.

BJP spokesperson KK Sharma said the work done by the state government in the last five years and the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Centre has helped the BJP establish itself as a party that has delivered in Assam. “The state leadership of chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal and health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has been able to address concerns and solve problems that had been lingering on for decades of the Congress rule.”

In Assam, the exit polls have predicted 60 to 85 seats for the BJP in the 126-member assembly. The Congress is expected to get 40 to 50 seats.

The BJP contested elections in Tamil Nadu in alliance with the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. In Kerala, where the BJP has a lone legislator, the exit polls do not predict any major improvement in its tally.

Mamata releases TMC manifesto, promises income for all

Kolkata, TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday unveiled the partys manifesto for the assembly polls promising a monthly Universal Basic Income for all families, a credit card scheme for students to pursue higher studies and formation of a task force to examine the inclusion of several backward communities under the OBC category.

Amid the allegation by the BJP that the TMC is engaged in the politics of appeasement, the manifesto, unlike previous years, did not have any special scheme or project for the minority community, which has been a major support base of the party till the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

The manifesto also vowed to build a "model Nandigram" with the supply of electricity 24X7, piped water and well connected roads. Banerjee, who had announced this recently, is contesting the poll from the Nandigram seat where she has been pitted against her protg-turned-adversary Suvendu Adhikari.

Claiming that her government has reduced poverty in the state by 40 per cent, the manifesto promised to increase annual financial aid to farmers from Rs 6,000 to Rs 10,000.

Christened as "Didi'r 10 Angikar (10 Resolutions of Didi)", the manifesto also listed projects for improving the economy and the health sector, creation of jobs, food security and providing affordable housing, electricity and piped drinking water to people.

The BJP, however, termed the manifesto as a "jumla" (false promise) to fool the people of the state ahead of the elections.

Taking a leaf out of the Congress's promise of Universal Basic Income promise during the Lok Sabha polls of 2019, Banerjee reached out to the 49 per cent women electorate of the state by promising that the woman guardian of every general category family will get Rs 500 every month, while the amount will be Rs 1,000 for SC/ST/OBC families.

The chief minister also announced a pension of Rs 1,000 to widows above 18 years of age.

"After forming the government, we helped lakhs of widows, senior citizens, and specially-abled people through monetary assistance. For the first time, every family in Bengal will be extended a minimum basic income. Under this (Universal Basic Income) scheme, the direct transfers will be made to the woman head of a family," Banerjee said.

Targeting the students' community and first-time voters, she said that a student credit card scheme will be introduced with a credit limit of Rs 10 lakh and an interest rate of only 4 per cent will be charged.

Reaching out to the Hindu backward communities and castes, which the BJP has been trying to tap, Banerjee said that a Special Task Force will be formed to examine and propose OBC status to communities that are not currently recognised as so.

It will help people belonging to communities such as Mahisya, Tili, Tamul, Sahas, the TMC boss said adding that they were part of the list of OBC communities recommended by the Mandal Commission.

"Along with this, expeditious closure will be ensured for the demands of Kisan Jatis living as STs in parts of Malda district. I will also aggressively follow up with the Government of India for granting ST status to the Mahato community," she said.

Her statement came a day after BJP president J P Nadda promised that if voted to power in the state, the party will include all the 'left out' Hindu castes in the OBC list. Teli, Mahato and Mahisya are among such castes found in the state's Bankura and Purulia districts.

Asked if this announcement is a reply to the BJPs strategy to woo the Hindu backward castes, she said, "It is the other way round. Our manifesto was ready by March 9, but its release got delayed due to various reasons."

"Maybe the BJP has copied my manifesto from the Election Commission and are making promises. We all know that the EC is being guided by the BJP," the TMC supremo said.

On the politically crucial Darjeeling hills and North Bengal, Banerjee said for the holistic development of Terai- Dooars region, the state government will set up a Special Development Board which will have proportional representation from all communities of the area.

The manifesto promised that in the coming days, a new facility under the state governments Khadya Sathi scheme will ensure delivery of monthly ration to 1.5 crore families at their doorstep.

Amid the criticism that her government did not allow the PM Kisan Samman Nidhi in the state, Banerjee promised to increase the annual aid to 68 lakh small and marginal farmers from Rs 6,000 to Rs 10,000 under the Krishak Bandhu Scheme.

Under the central scheme, farmers get Rs 6,000 a year.

Promising 5 lakh jobs every year, the chief minister said that the TMC government in its third term would add 2,000 big industrial units to the existing base of 10,000 units in the next five years.

"We will set up 10 lakh new MSMEs and 2000 new big industrial units in the next five years. New investments worth Rs 5 lakh crore will come in the next five years," she said.

While promising affordable housing, the manifesto stated that under the Bengal Awas Yojana, an additional 25 lakh low-cost houses will be built, and each house will have tap water facility and an improved drainage system.

"Five lakh more low-cost houses will be built under the Banglar Bari scheme in urban areas to reduce slum population from 7 per cent to 3.65 per cent," it said.

Amid criticism by Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the state's dismal performance in the Jal Jeevan Mission scheme, the manifesto promised piped drinking water facilities to 47 lakh households to ensure 100 per cent coverage.

The BJP, however, claimed that the TMC' manifesto is nothing but an effort by the ruling party to hoodwink people.

"From the promises, it seems they have done nothing in the last 10 years. Now, ahead of the assembly polls, they are trying to fool the masses. But people will give the TMC a befitting reply in the election," BJP state spokesperson Shamik Bhattacharya said.