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Loose change may pay off

india Updated: Mar 27, 2011 21:26 IST

The term 'anti-incumbency' hasn't cut much ice in West Bengal for the last three decades and its appeal in the coming assembly elections is highly debatable.

This isn't because the Trinamool Congress still lacks the political heft to knuckle down the Left Front government that has been ruling the state since 1977 but because, unlike in most other states in India, West Bengal's electorate has traditionally viewed 'change' with suspicion.

Mamata Banerjee's politics has been canny in that she was able to gauge early on that 'parivartan' (change) as a slogan could be retrofitted to a return to status quo.

The CPI(M) had short-circuited the Trinamool's earlier attempts to bring in a new face to a tiring electorate when it switched Jyoti Basu with Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in 2000, ahead of the 2001 state polls.

For all the early promise of a Trinamool-Congress mahajot (grand alliance) elbowing out the Left, it was only in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, with the two parties bagging 26 of the 42 seats that the cracks in Castle CPI(M) became all too visible.

Last year's civic polls, dubbed as the 'semi-finals' to the assembly elections, saw the Trinamool not even requiring the ballast of the Congress as it trounced the ruling party convincingly.

But since the series of punishments meted out by the electorate for its harried land acquisition-industrialisation policy that exposed the remains of the Left's Stalinist past, the CPI(M)-led government has admitted an erosion of support.

That, by itself, is a radical departure for the Left. However, what could be more dire for the government, used to its patented form of conflating party and government, is the departure of cadre support in rural Bengal, especially in erstwhile strongholds like Bardhaman, East and West Midnapur.

The question now is whether Trinamool partymen will be able to rush in where entrenched CPI(M) cadres now fear to tread.

West Bengal looks set for a regime change. But whether that spells a desire for any real change itself is something that the Trinamool shows little enthusiasm in testing.

Fielding candidates from both reformist and Luddite ends of the spectrum, Ms Banerjee hopes to keep everyone moderately happy, while the Left has already learnt that straying from the moderate position costs dearly.

In the end, the possible - and best - outcome for a state that has made a habit of keeping aspirations rock bottom is a new government that does not have an absolute majority in the assembly.