The Trinamool Congress’ (TMC) victory in the municipal elections in West Bengal, amid reports of violence and intimidation, is similar to the local body polls of 2010, when it seemed almost certain that the Left Front would go out of power the next year.
This time the jolt has not been so great for the Left Front. However, the BJP, which did quite well in last year’s Lok Sabha polls in terms of the percentage of votes secured, has got quite a shock, winning no municipality. West Bengal is now a matter of priority for the BJP and its president, Amit Shah, who had sensed a certain dissatisfaction among the people with the TMC on account of the Saradha scam and the declining law and order.
Though local body elections correspond to voter behaviour on a plane different from the assembly or Lok Sabha elections, at some points the planes do meet, as was proved five years ago. Seen from that point of view, it wouldn’t be wrong to say the urban vote is with the Trinamool and its leader Mamata Banerjee. The BJP’s efforts to capture the hearts and minds of the electorate have not been as successful as the party had desired.
Big personalities have always dominated West Bengal politics to an extent that they could put many other burning issues in the shade. In the early days of Independence it was the towering figure of BC Roy who prevented the turmoil arising out of refugee migration from turning into a political one. Jyoti Basu, chief minister for 23 years, was a colossus though it was under him that West Bengal had been set back by several decades.
Yet his personal popularity remained undiminished. Ms Banerjee, for all her shortcomings as a mercurial person, is a charismatic politician though she hasn’t been able to turn round the state in the way she suggested that she would.
Just as it seemed violence in elections was becoming a thing of the past, West Bengal saw killing and bloodshed in a manner that has reinforced the suspicion about the Trinamool’s strong-arm tactics. Though this has not rubbed off on her this time, Ms Banerjee will have a lot to answer for if she does not step in immediately and discipline her party workers.