West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress has swept the panchayat polls in the state, finally wielding control at the grassroots level in 13 out of the 17 districts.
Results emerging early Tuesday established the ruling Trinamool's dominance in the rural polls, which saw widespread violence and death of at least 17 people in four of the five phases of voting.
Three paper ballots per voter for three tiers - gram panchayat, panchayat samiti and zilla parishad - were being counted and the final results came out early Tuesday morning.
Anti-incumbency had no effect on Mamata's party and neither did the Saradha chit fund scandal over which she came under opposition fire.
"This is the victory of democracy. I dedicate this victory to the people. The Congress, CPI(M) and the BJP had an unholy nexus, but people defeated it. Trinamool had to fight against different forces," the CM said in the evening at Writers' Building, the seat of the state secretariat.
She said Trinamool had registered an increase in the percentage of votes compared to the percentage of votes it had secured in the 2011 assembly elections, which brought her to power and saw the end of 34 years of the Left Front rule in the state.
Left Front chairman Biman Bose stuck to conspiracy theories in the face of defeat. "At many counting stations, Trinamool Congress did not allow our agents to enter. Initially there were reports of our leads, but then agents were thrown out of the centres and our seats were reduced."
The Congress too accused the Trinamool of strong-arm tactics. "We have constantly alleged a reign of terror. In 20% of the seats, our candidates were ready, but could not file nominations," said state Congress president Pradip Bhattacharya.
As counting began, the Trinamool started wresting control of Left bastions in Burdwan, West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia districts.
The Trinamool also retained the control of East Midnapore and South 24 Parganas districts. The party was also way ahead in gram panchayat numbers in Howrah, Birbhum, Hooghly and North 24 Parganas.
The ruling party also made major inroads into North Bengal, which is considered a Congress bastion. The Trinamool put up a strong showing in Cooch Behar and South Dinajpur as well.
The CM was successful in her aim of cornering the Congress in the state in a bid to stop anti-Left vote bank erosion. In Malda, the Trinamool ate into Congress's votes. In North Dinajpur, the Congress put up a tough fight against the CPI(M).
Interestingly in Nandigram, where Trinamool ruled all the seats, party dissidents who contested as independents won in 3 of 17 seats. In Singur, the Trinamool swept the gram panchayat.
A number of gram panchayat seats in all districts, ranging from 10% to 25%, remained hung and left open speculations of grassroots-level political equations.
Pockets of concern, however, remained for the Trinamool. The CPI(M) was poised to retain Jalpaiguri district. It also put up an unexpected fight in Nadia, North and South 24 Parganas.
As their dominance became clear by the afternoon, Trinamool leaders took on the state election commission. The ruling party and the election watchdog had fought bitterly inside and outside the courts for months over the manner in which the polls should be held.