Battleground States: West Bengal

Election history, phase-wise details, key seats: All you need to know about this crucial state

Elections 2024
23 April, 2024

With 42 Lok Sabha seats, West Bengal sends the third-largest delegation to parliament, after Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. The size of the state has meant that the party that wins it during a general election tends to have a strong bargaining position when the spoils are divided up in Delhi. The Left Front, which won a majority of the state’s seats for ten consecutive general elections, between 1971 and 2004, helped prop up several non-Congress coalitions and provided outside support to the first Manmohan Singh government. Mamata Banerjee, the current chief minister, is a key figure in the opposition Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance—she reportedly came up with the backronym. If her All India Trinamool Congress, which has decided to forego seat-sharing agreements with other INDIA parties, gathers a rich haul of seats in the state, and if Prime Minister Narendra Modi fails to win a third term, Banerjee could plausibly make a case for the top job.

West Bengal is also central to Modi’s efforts to remain prime minister. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has almost reached the ceiling of the number of seats it can win in the Hindi belt and must expand its presence in the coastal states to compensate for any anti-incumbency its “double-engine” governments might face.

The BJP and the AITC were not always adversaries. In the 1999 general election, Banerjee joined the National Democratic Alliance, and the BJP won its first ever Lok Sabha seats in the state. But under Modi’s leadership, the party became the primary opposition in West Bengal, benefiting from the utter collapse of the Congress, in 2014, and the Left, in 2019, to win 18 seats in the last general election. In an attempt to staunch the bleeding, the Congress and the Left—bitter enemies for much of their existence—formed the Sanjukta Morcha before the 2021 assembly election but, together, can barely count on ten percent of the vote. Rather than align with them, Banerjee has let them put up their own candidates. With the BJP defending twice as many marginal seats—where it leads by less than five points—as the AITC, the prospect of the SM splitting the anti-Banerjee vote seems to outweigh the risk of it splitting the anti-Modi vote instead.

Given the state’s history of political violence, the Election Commission has mandated that West Bengal vote in all seven phases of the 2024 general election, allowing paramilitary forces deployed there to focus on smaller areas at a time. The ECI’s long schedule also allows Modi and his surrogates—the BJP’s list of 40 star campaigners, whose expenses are not counted towards individual candidates’ total spending, includes three chief ministers and several union cabinet members—to hold frequent campaign events in crucial constituencies while nursing their own fiefs in the rest of the country.