Case 1: Two camerapersons of leading news channels were critically injured while two factions of Trinamool Congress (TMC) clashed with each other in Barrackpore. One of the journalists had petrol poured on his body in an attempt to set him on fire. The duo was covering inner party clashes of the ruling party. Later, police arrested eight suspects, including leaders of opposing gangs backed by the Trinamool.
Case 2: Rabindranath Bhattacharjee, Trinamool MLA and key person in the Singur land agitation, who propelled the party to power, took on a fellow MLA, who was also a leader of the movement, over nominating candidates in the upcoming panchayat polls.
Case 3: Suvendu Adhikari, MP and Trinamool key person in five districts, had sent a list of candidates for districts like East Midnapore, among others, which was turned down by Mukul Roy, all-Indian general secretary of the party. Both are members of the core committee on panchayat polls set up by Mamata Banerjee. A fresh list of candidates was drawn up amid protest from grassroots workers.
Case 4: In Nandigram, which has been a cradle for anti-land acquisition protests that brought Trinamool to power, saw party leaders contest against each other in a number of seats in the three-tier panchayat polls. Rebel party leaders are poised to take on their own party candidates as the CPI(M) and the Congress failed to put up candidates in many seats.
Case 5: In Birbhum, TMC workers have hit out at district president Anubrata Mondol for handing out panchayat nominations for money, putting the prospects of genuine candidates in limbo. Many disgruntled candidates, who plan to take up the issue during a party workers’ meet, filed nominations as independent candidates.
In the run up to the panchayat polls, it is not the opposition but the ‘Trinamool vs Trinamool’ factor which has emerged as the main headache for Mamata Banerjee just two years after ‘Parivartan’ was ushered in in Bengal. The party, which is eyeing a record number of seats uncontested, still has to face a large number of disgruntled party leaders many of whom have stood as independents. Besides, there is an internal feud at the grassroots level also.
The party is poised to sweep majority of the districts with 14.4% seats remaining uncontested in the first phase itself after nominations. The majority of seats have gone to the ruling party. Compared to panchayat polls in 2003 (11% seats uncontested) and 2008 (5.5% seats uncontested), the figures are expected to bring smiles on Trinamool’s face, but the worrying factor of inner feuds looms large. Nearly 6,000 seats remained uncontested in the first phase. Though the Trinamool top leadership denied any kind of internal feud, Mamata Banerjee has directed senior leaders like Mukul Roy, Trinamool Congress general secretary, and Partha Chatterjee, secretary general of the party, to talk to grassroots leaders and sort out differences.
“There is no question of an internal feud. It is just part of the conspiracy which the opposition parties are hatching. They know that they will lose in the panchayat polls, which will bring a new Parivartan. The people of Bengal are with us,” said Mukul Roy.
However, at the grassroots level, internal bickering has recently come out into the open not only on the issue of candidates but also to the extent of clashes between factions within the party. In a number of gram panchayat, panchayat samity and zilla parishad seats, many party leaders have stood as independents.
“What can I say? The discontent is from the top to bottom. Our party chief Mamata Banerjee is trying her best to control the situation. She is unhappy and had already directed senior leaders to resolve differences at the ground level. But complaints keep pouring in,” said a senior party leader close to the chief minister.
Sources stated that the party’s senior leadership is not at all worried about opposition parties like the Congress, CPI(M) and BJP, who have been marginalised in pockets and has failed to put up candidates in most places. It fears that disgruntled Trinamool candidates would do the damage, dividing the party’s vote bank at the village level.
“Wherever opposition parties put up candidates, it would be a tight contest. In such a situation, if our independents rob us of votes, we will lose. For instance, at the gram panchayat level, a few dozen votes decide the fate of a party,” said a Trinamool leader and cabinet minister.
“First, it was an attack on our workers by the Trinamool. Then to some extent, attacks were carried out on other opposition parties. Now in Barrackpore and other areas, we are seeing violence as one faction of the ruling party is fighting another. Violence is the issue here before the panchayat polls,” said Suryakanta Mishra, leader of the opposition in the Assembly.
Mamata’s former ally, the Congress, too raised the issue of violence, like the CPI(M). “We are all seeing what is happening in Bengal. There is no law and order. Apart from attacks on opposition parties, one faction of the Trinamool is taking on the other. Moreover, the government doesn’t seem keen on bringing central forces to man the polls. During nominations, there were inadequate forces,” said Pradip Bhattacharya, president of West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee.
Party sources stated that Mamata herself is taking the panchayat polls very seriously because it will, to some extent, determine her party’s prospects in the Lok Sabha polls next year.
The party supremo is scheduled to hold around forty public meetings in districts during campaigning. Mamata also expects to rein in unhappy party leaders during her visit to the districts. At present, the Trinamool controls only two zilla parishads while the Left controls majority of zilla parishads, panchayat samities and gram panchayats.