For chief minister Mamata Banerjee, it was a do or die panchayat polls to keep her sway in the rural areas that elect 234 out of the 294 legislators in the Assembly and majority of the 42 MPs of Bengal.
And after a landslide victory in the 2011 Assembly elections, Mamata repeated the feat on Monday and captured the rural belt in the three-tier panchayat polls on the development mantra.
Though PCC chief Pradip Bhattacharya and CPI(M) state secretary Biman Bose alleged that violence and rigging by Trinamool marred the rural polls, the brigade said it was the pro-people policies of the government in the rural areas that helped them secure a large mandate in this polls.
An elated Mamata said it was a victory of development and democracy.
“If 80% people cast their vote in favour of us, how can you say terror determined this victory? Our development work in rural areas like Jangalmahal, Bankura and Purulia has paid rich dividends. And the bottom line is Mamata is still the biggest vote-catcher,” claimed state panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee.
In 2008 panchayat elections, Left Front won 13 Zilla Parishads and the Congress (Malda and Uttar Dinajpur) and the Trinamool (East Midnapore and South 24 Parganas) got two each.
“Unless we win the rural bodies, we cannot develop the villages and hold on to the vote bank,” Mamata told her party leaders during election campaign.
Hooghly (Singur), East Midnapore (Nandigram) and the Jangajmahal belt of Bankura, Purulia and West Midnapore were considered to be Mamata’s Achilles Heel.
But the development activities done by the state government in this belt and other districts was reflected in the ballot boxes. Distribution of subsidised rice, atta, 100 days employment under the NREGS, construction of village roads, digging of ponds, supplying drinking water through submersible pumps, building culverts and bridges, free education for girl children of backward areas, renovating schools and colleges and giving employment are some programmes that helped Mamata win the confidence of the people.
If Murshidabad defeated the inactive CPI(M) to bring back the Congress under Union minister of state for railways Adhir Chowdhury to usher in development in the district, disenchantment of the people sealed the Congress’ fate in North Dinajpur and Malda led by Union minister of state for urban development Deepa Dasmunshi and Union minister of state for health AH Khan Chowdhury.
Once a CPI(M) citadel and Maoist hotbed, the Jangalmahal voted for development and gave Mamata a resounding victory.
“The chief minister held 18 public meetings in Jangalmahal in the last two years.
She held three meetings in Lalgarh for the panchayat polls and announced a slew of projects for this under-developed area. Moreover, she personally looked into development activities in these areas,” said East Midnapore strongman and MP Subhendu Adhikari.
With the Singur land problem still unresolved and the chit fund scam hitting the industrial belts in the periphery of the city, both the CPI(M) and the Congress believed Mamata will take a beating in Hooghly, North and South 24-Parganas and Howrah districts.
But in the villages of these districts as well, people voted for her party.
One of the principal poll campaigners of the Trinamool, Subhendu Adhikari, claimed that in the places where the CPI(M) and the Congress have failed to serve the people’s interest.