CALCUTTA SOUTH

Updated on Apr 17, 2004 06:00 PM IST

Few doubt Mamata Banerjee's fifth consecutive win from the Calcutta South LS seat, known for its anti-Left bias, despite her ebbing popularity curve due to a 'credibility crisis'.

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PTI | ByPress Trust of India, Kolkata

Few doubt Nationalist Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee's fifth consecutive win from the Calcutta South Lok Sabha constituency, known for its anti-Left bias, despite her ebbing popularity curve due to a "credibility crisis."

Her main rivals in the constituency which she won by a margin of 2,14,008 votes in the last polls, are CPI(M)'s party organiser and chief whip of the Left Front in the West Bengal assembly Robin Deb and former Miss India, Congress' Nafisa Ali.

The question doing the rounds is whether Mamata, despite been known to be the "lone opposition voice" against CPI(M)'s "misrule," would be able to retain her victory margin given her ebbing popularity curve.

After the meteoric rise since 1984, her graph has fallen since 2001, thanks to the credibility crisis and whimsical decisions.

Her tying-up with Congress before the West Bengal assembly elections, deserting the BJP-led NDA and then eating humble pie and returning six months later to the NDA fold when her experiment to oust the Marxists from power failed has contributed to her slide.

Mamata parted ways with the Congress in 1998 and floated the Trinamool Congress just before Sonia Gandhi took over the reins. Mamata allied with the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections to fight the Left Front in West Bengal.

Mamata on whose charisma the party's success depends led her party to win seven Lok Sabha seats in 1998 when her TC fought the elections in alliance with BJP.

Similarly, in 1999 her party improved its performance garnering eight seats and won another by wresting the Panskura seat from the CPI(M) in a by-election next year.

Mamata saw her popularity graph rise further when her party wrested control from the Left Front over the Kolkata Municipal Corporation in 2000. Thereafter since 2001 she began a downward journey losing elections one after another.

Last year her party suffered a humiliating defeat in the panchayat elections, lost the Nabadwip Lok Sabha seat and some other by-elections.

Mamata has already met party workers in all the seven assembly constituencies including Rashbehari, Chowringhee, Alipur, Tollygunge, Dhakuria and Sonarpur, Ballygunge.

Except Ballygunge which is represented by Deb, all other six assembly seats are held by Trinamool Congress.

In each of these meetings, Mamata has asked party workers to carry the message to voters that if she become a Union minister again, it would help the people of West Bengal.

Emphasis was laid on how Mamata used her MP's local area development fund.

Her rivals Deb and Ali are equally optimistic about their respective victories.

"Mamata has had her place in history. I now want to be a part of history too," Nafisa, the former Miss India said.

"I have no grouse against Mamata. I have admired her as a people's leader and no doubt, she has worked hard over the past 20 years. But what I cannot understand is why a fighter like her has aligned with the BJP."

But how does Nafisa, who is also former National Swimming Champion hope to woo the grassroot level?

"Well, people have interacted with Mamata over the years and now feel they have formed a bond with her. But I hope that once they meet me, they will understand that I am like Mamata's bordidi (elder sister). They will learn to trust me too. I hope."

Though Mamata shrugged off Congress's  surprise move to field Nafisa in her constituency, saying she was not a competitor, a section of her party leaders were worried about former Miss India's charm and what it could do to the middle and upper middle class voters.

That Nafisa wanted to highlight the issues relating to minorities was also a matter of concern for Trinamool being in the BJP-led NDA.

The decision by CPI(M) to field MLA Deb in the constituency has also sent jitters down some spines.

Deb's emphasis during campaign in the constituency is mass contact. He is also highlighting the "inconsistent and opportunistic political postures" of Mamata, her deserting the NDA and then joining it again.

CPI(M) is hoping that if Nafisa could garner increased Congress votes this time, the party stood to gain from a division of anti-Left votes.

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