One-hundred-and-thirty-six years old Cooch Behar Bar Association is just 10 minutes walking distance from Rajbari, the magnificent royal palace, which is a landmark in the city.

Inside the Bar Association premises a few lawyers were having their evening tea together. “The situation is likely to turn violent on polling day here as a fierce battle is on the cards between the BJP and the Trinamool Congress. You can even witness incidents of hurling of crude bombs,” said a senior lawyer. Others nodded in agreement.

Cooch Behar Lok Sabha constituency, in the north-eastern part of West Bengal, witnessed high-voltage campaigns. Nisith Pramanik, the incumbent BJP MP and Union Minister, is seeking re-election from here. TMC has fielded Jagadish Chandra Barma Basunia, a prominent leader, for the seat to take him on.

The constituency, which has turned into a hotbed of political activities, is going to polls on April 19, in the first phase of the LS elections.

Violence during elections is nothing new for this district, which has a long Indo-Bangladesh border. Killing of four youth in CISF firing in Sitalkuchi during the 2021 Assembly polls is still fresh in minds of people.

The seat has become a battle of prestige for both BJP and TMC as Pramanik, the Minister of State for Home Affairs, Youth Affairs and Sports, is a former Trinamool youth leader who joined the saffron party in 2019 after he had been expelled from the Mamata Banerjee-led party. In the 2019 LS polls, he defeated his nearest rival Paresh Adhikary of TMC by over 54,000 votes.

This time, Trinamool is firing on all cylinders to snatch the BJP citadel. CM Banerjee and party general secretary Abhishek Banerjee frequently visited the constituency and addressed major rallies.

“Pramanik did not do any developmental work here in the last five years, while the state government has set up a new university, a medical college and an engineering college,” said Rohijul Hossein, who works at the state transport department, sitting inside a small bus depot. However, one of his co-workers was quick to add: “Yes that is true. But they lack proper infrastructure. Thus, for better education still the students are going to Kolkata. And, patients will have to rush to Kolkata as well for better treatment.”

“People are supporting Nisith as he has the PM’s blessings. Moreover, young voters are expected to back him,” said Sudip Kundu, a social worker. The Cooch Behar MP is the youngest minister in Modi’s council of ministers.

However, political observers feel that “weak performance” as a minister and MP could cause some electoral damage to Pramanik, although the Prime Minister lauded his work during an election campaign early this month.

Trinamool can also cash in on BJP’s weak organisational structure here. However, TMC may face a setback due to the alleged West Bengal school jobs scams and the alleged atrocities against women in Sandeshkhali in the state’s North 24 Parganas district.

Significantly, Rajbanshi vote bank will be a key factor in this constituency. A scheduled caste group, the Rajbanshi community is one of the major ethnic groups of North Bengal. Both BJP and Trinamool tried to woo Rajbanshi voters during their campaigns.

“The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) has created a fear among Rajbanshi people. Seeking citizenship under CAA needs documents, and that is the worry,” said Abdul Jalil Ahmed, district Vice-President of TMC.

BJP district vice president Ujjal Kanti Basak claimed that Rajbanshi voters are with his party. “Rajbanshi people are with us. When a majority of them came from Bangladesh after 1971, local people here had embraced them and supported them. So, there is no question of fear,” Basak said, adding the saffron party would be winning Cooch Behar seat with a margin of around 1.5 lakh votes.