KOLKATA (Reuters) – The populous Indian state of West Bengal has emerged as a key battleground for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party, which is looking to extend its national domination and dislodge one of Modi’s sharpest critics.
To win power in the eastern state, where a month-long election begins on Saturday, Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has deployed its formidable election machinery, backed by deep pockets.
The party brass – including Modi and his powerful home minister Amit Shah – has also been relentlessly campaigning, flanked by local leaders poached from the Trinamool Congress (TMC), which has ruled the state since 2011 and is headed by firebrand Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
The BJP currently controls a dozen of the country’s 28 states, with alliance partners in several others. But it has never won power in West Bengal, whose 90 million people make it the fourth most populous state.
“A victory in Bengal would mean that they are closer to their one-nation, one-party ambition,” said political analyst Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay.
Winning states is key to controlling the upper house of the federal parliament whose members are elected by state assemblies. The BJP already has a huge majority in the lower house of parliament and will be in a better position to enact legislation through parliament, analysts say.