Mamata magic on the wane

PTI | ByAnirban Chowdhury and O.P. Rana, Kolkata
May 09, 2004 03:27 PM IST

?You just cannot defeat the CPI(M) sitting in the PCC office. We need to go to the villages and stand by the party workers tormented by the Left,? was what Mamata Banerjee had said.

“You just cannot defeat the CPI(M) sitting in the PCC office. We need to go to the villages and stand by the party workers tormented by the Left,” was what Mamata Banerjee said while forming the Trinamool Congress.

HT Image
HT Image

And she did what she said. She was like a tornado unleashed on rural Bengal, bringing new hope. The people of Bengal showered their blessings on her. Within months of the Trinamool's formal launch in January 1998, they gifted her seven MPs. In the next general elections a year later, she added another seat to her tally.

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It's poll time again, but the Trinamool has lost much of its shine as the only credible voice of the Opposition. With the Congress recovering with the help of its allies, Mamata is struggling to find her feet.

Kolkata city and its adjoining areas, about 150 sq km to be precise, have always voted against the Left. Most of rural Bengal has been with the Left for the past three decades, where neither the Trinamool nor the Congress have managed to make much inroad.

The south Bengal districts of Bankura, Purulia, Birbhum, Howrah, Hooghly, Burdwan and parts of East and West Midnapore still vote Left, mainly for the CPI(M) with many of its candidates winning by over one lakh votes.

The scene changes as one travels north and approaches the Farakka Barrage and is hit by fluttering Congress flags. Both sides of the barrage — Malda and Murshidabad districts — are the party's traditional strongholds.

Mamata's advent in Bengal politics had, to a great extent, marginalised most of the Pradesh Congress leaders but not Malda's A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury. Ghani Khan's personal charisma has kept the Congress vote bank intact in this region.

The new entrant among the more effective Congress leaders, Adhir Chowdhury, MP from Berhampore, too has changed the insipid face of the party. Branded a "criminal" by the CPI(M), Adhir nevertheless is a "Robin Hood" in the eyes of the people.

These two along with Pranab Mukherjee from Jangipur in Murshidabad and Priya Ranjan Das Munshi in Raigunj make a formidable Congress team spread over three districts. They are likely to take the party's tally from three to four.

Except for these three districts and the city of Kolkata, the rest of Bengal remains in the tight grip of the Left Front. The CPI(M) bagged 21 seats (other front partners won eight seats) out of the total 42 last time. In this election, CPI(M) is confident of wresting at least four seats from the Trinamool.

But the Left must deal with the spectre of the People's War (PW) in Purulia, Bankura and Midnapore. What must be troubling the CPI(M) even more is the public support the PW has gained, thanks to the Bengal government’s failure on the development front.

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