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Tripura results: Trinamool, CPM leaders see bigger threat in Bengal before panchayat polls

For Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee, who started making inroads into Tripura five years ago and found some acceptance among the anti-Left Bengali population, Saturday’s results came as a a big setback to her hopes of emerging as a regional force before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

india Updated: Mar 04, 2018 00:07 IST
Tanmay Chatterjee
Tanmay Chatterjee
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
Tripura election result,Election results,Election Commission of India
BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav and Tripura BJP chief Biplab Kumar Deb greet the supporters after party's victory in Tripura Assembly elections results in Agartala on Saturday. (PTI Photo)

Even before the declaration of the final election results in Tripura, it became evident that the fall of the Manik Sarkar government would have an impact on political equations in West Bengal, starting with the panchayat polls due in a few months.

Leaders of West Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress realised that the party had been reduced to a virtual nonentity in Tripura, where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)ended the Left’s 25-year rule.

For Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee, who started making inroads into Tripura five years ago and found some acceptance among the anti-Left Bengali population, Saturday’s results came as a a big setback to her hopes of emerging as a regional force before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

She met Congress, Rashtriya Janata Dal, Samajwadi Party and Janata Dal leaders and took part in rallies organized against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance government in 2017. Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI (M), leaders too have taken the side of Trinamool members in Parliament.

On Saturday, Banerjee tried to downplay the victory of the BJP, yet blamed the CPI(M). Without naming BJP president Amit Shah, who said earlier in the day that the party’s next target was Bengal, Banerjee said: “An ant doesn’t become a bird if it grows wings.”

“Those who used muscle and money power to win this election should not start dreaming about winning in Bengal. This is CPI(M)’s defeat, not BJP’s victory,” she added.

According to Prosenjit Bose, an economist who was formerly with the CPI (M), the first casualty of a resurgent BJP in Bengal will be the Communist party. “What they (the BJP) have done in Tripura, they don’t have to do that to the TMC, but they will certainly do that to the Left and the Congress,” he said.

Many leaders in the CPI (M)’s all-powerful central committee, including general secretary Sitaram Yechury, want an electoral understanding with the Congress and regional parties to counter the BJP’s rise. This is being opposed by former general secretary Prakash Karat and the Kerala unit of the CPI (M).

“The CPI(M) was defeated in Tripura because it did not consider it necessary to take along the other opposition parties in its battle against the BJP. The CPI(M) failed to fathom the impact of the BJP’s use of resources and and force. The CPI(M)’s ego, along with a lack of confidence among voters, led to these results,” Trinamool secretary general Partha Chatterjee said in Kolkata.

Chatterjee’s statement came barely two days after chief minister Mamata Banerjee wished her predecessor Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee of the CPI (M) on his 73rd birthday and sent him flowers and a cake.

On February 28, the Trinamool supremo said in the Bengal assembly that she would like to see the CPI(M) win the Tripura polls since that would serve “greater interests of the people.” Banerjee also asked the Kolkata civic body to quickly repair the government apartment where Bhattacharjee lives.

Her actions were significant because under the Left Front regime the two leaders shared a bitter relationship. They exchanged words on official business only once and avoided meeting each other. Whether he was addressing a political rally or talking to party colleagues behind closed doors, Bhattacharjee never uttered the name of the state’s main opposition leader.

On Saturday, Partha Chatterjee’s statements triggered speculation that in order to protect its own bastion, the Trinamool might adopt a new strategy to stop the rise of the BJP in Bengal . In all recent elections in West Bengal , the BJP has bettered the performance of the CPI(M) and Congress and ended second in the race.

“Trinamool never claimed that it would win the Tripura polls because we had a traitor who was working secretly for the BJP. But the CPI(M) should have been on the alert,” said Chatterjee, an implicit reference to his party’s former all-India general secretary Mukul Roy, who joined the BJP in November last year.

“Bengal BJP leaders need not rejoice and dream of winning the panchayat polls. Mamata Banerjee enjoys the confidence of the masses,” he added.

“BJP has won in Tripura because Congress and Trinamool merged with it. They encouraged the BJP to take on the Marxists. The CPI(M) could never match the money and muscle power. Trinamool should now hold its fort in Bengal instead of helping the BJP any further,” said CPI(M) politburo member Mohammed Salim.

Mukul Roy reacted sharply. “Residents of Tripura have voted for change. Mamata Banerjee recently said she would be happy if the Left won in Tripura. So, she has to take the responsibility if the Left fails,” said Roy. “The result of this victory will definitely have an effect on the panchayat polls,” he added.

On Friday, while reacting to Mamata Banerjee’s birthday wishes for Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Roy said CPI(M) and Trinamool were “two sides of the same coin”

Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh sounded buoyant on Saturday. “Outcome of the Tripura election will definitely ensure the rise of the BJP in Bengal. That will start from the panchayats,” he said. Panchayat elections in the state could take place n May or June.

For the Bengal CPI(M), which recently overhauled its rank and file by introducing hundreds of new faces in place of aging leaders, Saturday’s results dealt a major setback.

“There is a tough battle ahead of us and we have been saying this since 2011. The BJP will definitely try to penetrate certain ethnic groups and tribal belts in north Bengal using the tactics it deployed in Tripura. But the ground reality in the two states is different,” said Salim.

The ripples of the CPI (M)’s shock defeat in Tripura were also felt in faraway Kerala, now the last bastion of the Communists, who found it difficult to explain the trouncing they received at the hands of their arch enemy, which has been trying to raise its profile in the southern state.

Party veteran V S Achuthanandan, who always supported general secretary Sitaram Yechury’s call for a tie-up with the Congress, asked CPI (M) leaders to “do enough introspection and see dangers ahead.”

State opposition leader Ramesh Cehnnithala said the results clearly showed the need for a united fight against the BJP. “Yechury was right. I hope Kerala leaders will open their eyes at least for now,” he said.

With inputs from Ramesh Babu in Thiruvananthapuram and Zia Haq in New Delhi.

First Published: Mar 03, 2018 22:35 IST