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Mamata finally?

Trinamool Congress has consolidated last year’s gains in West Bengal. The stage is set for the finals next year.

india Updated: Jun 02, 2010 23:29 IST
Anirban Choudhury

The outgoing mayor of the CPI(M)-controlled Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC), Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, described the Trinamool Congress’ (TC) resounding win in the city as mass “hysteria”.

As results started trickling in, HT correspondents saw outbursts of emotion in the city, such as taxi drivers refusing to accept fare, men and women dancing to drum beats sporting green vermilion, etc.

But the results of the elections to the 81 municipalities in West Bengal made a more emphatic political statement than the mass “hysteria” in Kolkata, where the Trinamool Congress swept the elections, getting 95 out of the 141 seats alone. In Kolkata’s satellite township Salt Lake, the party wrested the board, getting 16 out of the 25.

First, the Trinamool Congress established itself as a clear winner in the semi-final before the assembly elections about 12 months from now.

Second, it reduced the Congress in the state to a non-entity. Humiliated by the TC during seat-sharing arrangements, the Congress, an ally of the TC at the Centre, went alone in 115 wards of the KMC and managed to win only in 10.

Third, the Left’s hegemony in semi-rural areas of the state is now in question. The Trinamool Congress made considerable inroads in areas it never ever treaded in the past.

CPI(M) leaders have questioned the theory of the TC’s intrusion into its rural base. Mohammed Selim, central committee member of the party, said: “This election is not a sample size of Bengal’s electorate.” He is correct in many ways. The 81 municipalities comprise only 16 per cent of the 50 million voters of Bengal. Also, the verdict of the rural voters has not been judged in the Left strongholds of districts like Burdwan, Birbhum, Purulia, Bankura, Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri, North Dinajpur and South Dinajpur.

But one has to take note of a few results in the districts to counter that view. Take, for example, the case of the municipalities in North 24 Parganas district, adjacent to Kolkata. The Left held 20 out the 21 municipalities. This year, the TC wrested 11 municipalities and will form the board with Congress help in seven. Only three remain with the Left. The two municipalities of Barrackpore and Naihati, which were boards without any opposition representation, have now gone to the TC.

Another CPIM) stronghold was Hooghly district. Of the 12 municipalities, the Left controlled eight. This time, except Arambagh, the opposition now has control of 11 of them. The Rishra municipality witnessed the 30-year-old left body going to the opposition.

In Burdwan, the stronghold of CPI(M) has also been rattled. The opposition has wrested three municipalities of Daihat, Memari and Kalna.

CPI(M) politburo member Nirupam Sen said many of the supporters of the party had deserted the organisation. “We have to make a proper assessment of the situation,” he said.

Except Kolkata and Salt Lake, of the 79 municipalities that went to polls, there is no clear verdict in about 30 of them. In some, the independents will be deciding the factor while in most of them the TC and Congress together have a majority.

Trinamool President Mamata Banerjee claimed that her party would gain control in 51 boards. But, much will depend on how the two UPA partners behave during post-poll alliances, which occur at grassroots level.

It will be interesting to watch how the battered Congress behaves now. Union Finance Minister and West Bengal Pradesh
Congress Committee chief Pranab Mukherjee “congratulated” Banerjee, accepting the “failure” of his party in Bengal. Last week, he had launched a vitriolic attack against her as he campaigned in Bengal and stressed that “he cannot convert the Congress party into a signboard for the sake of humiliating alliances”.

Banerjee wants early elections in West Bengal, and the CPI(M) has rejected the demand outright. One thing has emerged overwhelmingly in this election – the TC and Congress are a formidable force together. But both the parties went against the tide after they failed to reach a consensus on seat sharing in the KMC. This scuttled alliance plans in the districts also. In the post- poll scenario, there will be increasing pressure on leaders to forge alliances for the assembly elections. More than anybody else, Mukherjee will be under pressure to give in to that demand even if it means risking the future of his party in Bengal.

The stage is set for the assembly elections of 2011.