As the CPI(M) makes a comeback in Bengal civic polls, BJP see TMC’s hand

  • Days after, saffron camp leaders raised allegations of rigging and violence, BJP state president Sukanta Majumdar claimed that the CPI(M)’s resurgence was “sponsored” by the TMC.
The BJP could not win even one municipality despite being the TMC’s principal adversary since the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. (ANI) PREMIUM
The BJP could not win even one municipality despite being the TMC’s principal adversary since the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. (ANI)
Published on Mar 07, 2022 11:56 AM IST
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Kolkata: As the Trinamool Congress (TMC) swept the Bengal civic polls on Wednesday, winning 1,871 of the 2,171 seats in 108 municipalities, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ended third in the race with only 63 seats and 12.6% of the vote share. Saffron camp leaders alleged that the ruling party helped the Marxists rise to the second position in order to corner the BJP before the panchayat polls next year and the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

The BJP could not win even one municipality despite being the TMC’s principal adversary since the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. It fell behind the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M), which lost in all parliamentary and assembly seats it contested in these three years.

Though the CPI(M) secured 47 seats on Wednesday with a vote share of 12.4%, the party not only retained control on the Taherpur municipality that it won in Nadia district in 2015, but also got the support of urban voters across the state.

The fractional difference in vote share between the BJP and the CPI(M) was made by the Communist Party of India (CPI) which got 0.66% votes, the Forward Bloc (0.69%) and the Revolutionary Socialist Party (0.39%).

This happened despite the Left parties, the BJP and the Congress not winning any seat in as many as 39 municipalities which exposed the hegemonic control of the TMC less than a year after the assembly polls in which it secured 215 of Bengal’s 294 seats.

A major shift in Left votes was found to be the principal reason behind the BJP’s meteoric rise in Bengal since 2019 but around 76% of the 10 million urban voters who turned up for the February 27 polls changed the scenario drastically, political observers said.

Days after, saffron camp leaders raised allegations of rigging and violence, BJP state president Sukanta Majumdar claimed on Wednesday that the CPI(M)’s sudden resurgence was “sponsored” by the TMC.

“This is not the real rise of the Left. It was sponsored by the TMC. For every eight false votes TMC supporters had cast, two went to the CPI(M). Unlike us, the CPI(M) never faced any attack. The TMC is creating a space for it,” said Majumdar.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, in which the BJP won only two seats, its vote share was 17.02%. In the 2016 assembly polls, the BJP secured three seats and its vote share stood at 10.16%. The scenario changed in 2019 when it wrested 18 of Bengal’s 42 Lok Sabha seats with a vote share of 40.7%. In the assembly polls held last year, it won 77 seats with a 38% vote share.

With infighting in the BJP district units and differences among state-level leaders already a cause for concern, the poor show in the civic polls rattled many party apparatchiks. Locket Chatterjee, the Lok Sabha member from Hooghly district who was sent to Uttarakhand to campaign for the assembly polls, tweeted just one word: “Introspection”

“That the TMC is tacitly helping the CPI(M) occupy the opposition space became evident after the alleged murder of student leader Anis Khan on February 19,” said a state BJP leader who did not want to be named.

“The CPI(M) and its frontal organisations took out more than 20 protest rallies in violation of the pandemic regulations. They blocked roads and railway tracks. Yet, the police took no drastic action. Some student leaders were booked only after the police were attacked on February 26. The polls took place a day later. Though it banks largely on the Muslim vote bank, the TMC knew that the issue would never influence all minority community voters. While Marxists hogged the limelight, the BJP did not hit the streets because Khan had campaigned against the Citizenship Amendment Act. We should have,” he added.

TMC leaders dismissed the allegations saying the CPI(M) made a comeback because it is sincerely working on the field.

“The CPI(M) is rising because people trust it. BJP leaders sell lies all the time. Unlike the BJP, the CPI(M) is working on its organisation. It did not need any help from anyone to win seats,” said TMC’s Birbhum district unit president Anubrata Mondal, one of the trusted aides of chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

Mondal, who was recently inducted into the party’s national working committee, made the statement before the media on Wednesday evening although the TMC swept all five municipalities in Birbhum and the CPI(M) bagged only one seat in the district.

Matua voters

The CPI(M)’s success at Taherpur in Nadia district - where refugees from Bangladesh and Dalit Hindu voters play a major role in elections - has become a talking point.

The Matuas are a part of the large Dalit community that migrated from East Pakistan (Now Bangladesh) during India’s Partition in 1947 and the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War to escape religious persecution. Though the BJP secured the Ranaghat Lok Sabha seat with the support of this population it could not establish control on any civic body in Nadia. While the TMC swept the polls, winning 174 of 197 seats in Nadia district, the CPI(M) got eight, three more than the BJP.

In North 24 Parganas district, which has the highest Matua population, the TMC won 591 of 629 seats. The CPI(M) secured 13 seats against the BJP’s poor score of four.

In February 2021, Union home minister Amit Shah announced during his visit to North 24 Parganas district’s Thakurnagar, the headquarters of the Matua community, that the Centre will enforce the citizenship law once vaccination across the country is over and the Covid-19 pandemic ends.

The Centre, said Shah, is in the process of framing laws for the Citizenship Amendment Act that offers citizenship to non-Muslims who entered India from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh before 2015. Mamata Banerjee figures among the law’s staunch critics as it links citizenship to faith in a secular country.

The BJP wrested the Bongaon Lok Sabha seat in 2019 by fielding All India Matua Mahasangha president Shantanu Thakur against his aunt and the then sitting TMC MP Mamata Bala Thakur. Shantanu Thakur was made a Union minister last year and the Matuas demanded immediate implementation of the citizenship law.

Thakur has distanced himself from the state BJP saying Matuas were not given any important portfolio in the new organisational committees formed in December last year. “The new state-level committees were formed with an ulterior motive. We foresee danger for the Bengal BJP,” Thakur said in January.

The CPI(M) on Wednesday was declared the winner at eight of the 13 seats at Taherpur with the TMC wresting the remaining five.

Braja Kishor Goswami, the TMC legislator from Shantipur in Nadia district said his party might have failed to reach out to Taherpur voters.

“Probably we failed to convince voters. But this is a democracy,” Goswami said in a bid to explain the CPI(M)’s victory.

CPI(M) central committee member Sujan Chakraborty however maintained that Taherpur is an old citadel of Left politics.

North Bengal

The BJP had outperformed the TMC in north Bengal in all recent polls. In the 2021 assembly polls, the BJP bagged 30 of the 54 seats in the eight north Bengal districts. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, it wrested seven of the eight seats in north Bengal. Nisith Pramanik, the MP from Cooch Behar, was made union minister of state for home affairs during the last cabinet reshuffle.

In the civic polls, the TMC secured 55 of the 60 seats in Cooch Behar while the CPI(M) got two and independent candidates secured the remaining three.

Majumdar, the BJP state president, represents the Balurghat Lok Sabha seat in South Dinajpur district where the TMC won 41 of the 43 seats on Wednesday while the CPI(M) and Revolutionary Socialist Party shared the remaining two.

The TMC established control over 18 of the 19 municipalities in north Bengal. The only exception was Darjeeling where the Hamro Party, launched three months ago by businessman and philanthropist Ajoy Edwards, emerged as the surprise winner.

Tribal votes

The hideout of armed cadres of the CPI(Maoist) during the last years of the Left Front regime and home to a sizeable tribal population, the rough terrains of Jangalmahal - a region spread across West Midnapore, Purulia, Bankura and Jhargram districts of south Bengal – witnessed a close contest between the BJP and TMC in 2019 and 2011. The BJP won five Lok Sabha seats in the region and more than a dozen assembly seats last year.

The scenario changed on Wednesday when the Left parties regained some of their positions. In Jhargram for example, the TMC secured 16 of the 18 seats while the CPI(M) secured one and the remaining seat went to an independent candidate. In West Midnapore, the TMC secured 97 of the 120 seats while the BJP won eight and the CPI(M), four.

Congress hit hard

The Congress, whose capability to lead regional parties against the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls has been questioned by Mamata Banerjee in recent months, has been hit hard by the TMC.

Although the Congress retained two Lok Sabha seats in 2019 it could not win any seat in the state polls. On Wednesday, the TMC wrested the municipality at Berhampore, the home town of Bengal Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and also his Lok Sabha constituency. The Congress controlled the municipality for 30 years. The party also lost control over the Joynagar-Majilpur municipality in South 24 Parganas district where the TMC deployed a dozen senior leaders to oversee the poll preparations.

Chowdhury, however, did not accuse the TMC of helping the CPI(M), his electoral partner.

“TMC used violence to win in Berhampore. Voters were robbed of their democratic rights. If a mock poll is held tomorrow, I will win all 28 seats. I will quit politics if I lose even one,” Chowdhury said.

The BJP’s setback led to a debate on Saturday at the Bengal state committee’s first meeting since the polls were held. Significantly, Suvendu Adhikari and Shantanu Thakur were conspicuous by their absence although the meeting was attended by the head of the party’s national information technology cell, Amit Malviya, who is co-in-charge of the state unit.

While Sukanta Majumdar accused the TMC of resorting to violence and also helping the CPI(M) regain lost ground, Lok Sabha member Locket Chatterjee questioned the removal of experienced and veterans from the state committee prior to the polls. “The job of handling the election machinery was left to newcomers,” she was quoted to have said at the meeting. Many leaders countered Majumdar saying the party lost even in places that witnessed no violence, insiders said.

Without naming Chatterjee, national vice-president Dilip Ghosh said on Sunday that those who did not work on the ground should not pass comments. Chatterjee refused to react to this, saying whatever she said at the meeting is an internal matter. “I am surprised that Ghosh could comment on it in public,” she said.

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    Tanmay Chatterjee has spent more than three decades covering regional and national politics, internal security, intelligence, defence and corruption. He also plans and edits special features on subjects ranging from elections to festivals.

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