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Anything but a walkover for Buddha

The polls might turn out to be as tough as the 2001 elections, comrades admit, writes Aloke Banerjee.
None | By Aloke Banerjee, Kolkata
UPDATED ON MAR 28, 2006 09:37 PM IST

The Mamata threat has fizzled out. The Congress's pretensions of being a challenge to the red bastion are well…just that. You don't really need to be clairvoyant to predict a Left Front walkover in the West Bengal assembly polls — right? Wrong.

Reports pouring in from the CPM district units indicate that the 28-year-old Left government is not immune to the anti-incumbency factor. The CPM state committee, which met earlier this month to discuss the ground realities, found out that in at least four districts — Murshidabad, Malda, South Dinajpur and Nadia — the Left's prospects were bleak.

And despite the fact that the Trinamool Congress and the Congress have not managed to string together an alliance, this poll might turn out to be as tough as the 2001 elections, comrades admit.

The CPM expects the Congress to improve its tally in the first three districts while in Nadia, an unofficial alliance between the Congress and the Trinamool is in the offing, the Marxists found out to their dismay.

"We will definitely win.

But though the Opposition is in disarray, it will be too much to expect that we will sweep the poll. In all probability, we will retain the position we had in the last assembly election or even improve marginally," admitted state industries minister and CPM central committee member Nirupam Sen.

Ironically, the party known for its formidable rural support base, is doing better in urban areas, with the party anticipating a substantial improvement in Kolkata.

Left Front leaders admit in private that chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's efforts to hardsell Brand Bengal as an investment destination and his emphasis on shopping malls, flyovers, expressways and health cities might have lured the urban middle and upper-middle class vot ers, but in the process, he has alienated the Left's traditional rural vote bank.

The recent controversy over the Salim Group projects and the government's decision to hand over agricultural land to industries has sharpened the divide, Krishak Samity leaders of the CPM admit.

What has added to the worries of the Left leaders is the rise of Maoist movement in the state after a gap of three decades. Though the Maoists are yet to emerge as a threat to CPM's organisation, the issues raised by the Naxalites are rattling the Left, senior leaders say.

After repeated Maoist strikes particularly in Purulia, Bankura and West Midnapore, the chief minister asked IIT Kharagpur to prepare a comprehensive development plan for the area — an admission that rural Bengal was not a Marxist Utopia as the Left has always claimed.

Another major crisis to strike the Left is CPM state secretary Anil Biswas's sudden illness. Virtually the single point of reference for the CPM as well as for the Left Front, Biswas's absence in day-to-day troubleshooting during the campaign phase is being seriously felt, Left leaders say.

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