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Even three months before the general elections, the heat is still not perceptibly on in Bengal. For, the equations of 2009 between the ruling Trinamool Congress and the Congress changed, but it happened quite some time ago. And the Left is still in a shock after its unceremonious exit from power.
Till now, Bengal not only appears mostly green (read: the TMC), but it also looks like a safe platform for party chief Mamata Banerjee’s launch in the national scene — aiming at a substantive role, if not that of a kingmaker.
For the Congress and CPM, it is a battle for minimising losses. And the BJP, although a marginal player till now, is hoping to ride the Modi wave and clinch at least one seat in the plains. In 2009, BJP’s Jaswant Singh won from the Darjeeling seat, but entirely on the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha’s support.
Plus, it may upset some equations in places such as Howrah, Krishnanagar in Nadia district and Jangipur in Murshidabad —the last two are close to the India-Bangladesh border.
In fact, Bengal’s staid politics underwent a drastic change in the past 10 years. In 2004, Banerjee was the lone TMC MP, as the Left Front secured 35 seats and Congress 6 of the state’s 42 Lok Sabha seats.
Five years later in 2009, the TMC-Congress alliance wrested as many as 19 seats. And she swept the Left out of power after a 34-year reign in the May 2011 assembly polls. This time, the TMC looks more formidable than ever with about 26 to 30 expected seats.
“There will be no trace of the Left Front after the polls. We have already established that we can fight alone. We’ll also contest throughout India. She will play the role of a kingmaker in Delhi this time,” said Mukul Roy, all-India general secretary of the TMC, who is brokering an understanding between Banerjee and social activist Anna Hazare.
Banerjee has already set the pace from a mega rally in Brigade Parade Ground on January 30, reiterating her stand of maintaining equal distance from the Congress and BJP. But her opponents are not convinced, especially after Narendra Modi’s veiled offer to Banerjee of a post-poll alliance five days later at rally at the same venue five days later.
Going by the panchayat poll results, the TMC is expected to sweep south Bengal, which has been safe for Left stalwarts, such as Basudeb Acharya and Gurudas Dasgupta, till 2009. But Banerjee may still have to face the charge of rising atrocities on women, including rape.
In the Congress bastion of north Bengal, the TMC is getting ready for a fierce fight with the trio — Deepa Dasmunsi, wife of ailing former Union minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, in Raiganj, Abu Hasem Khan Choudhury, brother of former Union minister Gani Khan Choudhury, in Malda Dakshin and Adhir Choudhury in Murshidabad’s Bahrampur.
Already, the TMC managed to woo some district-level Congress leaders and MLAs in north Bengal. For instance, it got support from three Left Front and two Congress MLAs during the last Rajya Sabha elections. Dasmunsi said, “Our party will be strengthened in Bengal, and we will do well.” To put up a good fight, the Congress high command recently appointed firebrand leader Adhir Chowdhury as the state party head. Chowdhury has long been a bitter critic of Banerjee.
The Left Front, meanwhile, is desperately trying to cash in on issues such as the rising atrocities on women in the state, besides highlighting a possible Mamata-Modi alliance after the polls. A section of Left leaders is even hoping that the anti-Left vote will be divided among the Congress, TMC and the BJP and help the Left to notch up a reasonably good number.