The ruling Trinamool Congress, which came to power in 2011 ending a 34-year Left rule in West Bengal, appears set to retain power in the upcoming assembly election, despite an alliance between the Congress and the CPM, arch rivals before Mamata Banerjee-led TMC came into existence in 1998. The ruling party is predicted to win 178 seats and is set to get increased vote share compared to the 2011 assembly elections, as found by an opinion poll conducted by ABP News-Nielsen.
Congress-CPM alliance will be the prime challenger to TMC in Bengal. They are expected to win around 110 seats in the 294-member state assembly, the survey shows.
The opinion poll was conducted in 118 constituencies with 14,450 respondents from March 8 to March 20. As per the survey, there is not much to differentiate between the TMC and the CPM-Congress alliance in terms of vote share. While the former is expected to get around 45 percent votes, much higher than the 39 percent it got in 2011, the latter would likely get around 44 percent share.
According to the poll, there is a degree of satisfaction with the performance of the TMC government and 58 percent of the respondents have found the performance of Mamata Banerjee as good or very good while only 16 percent rated it as poor or very poor.
Banerjee is the most popular leader in the state followed by former chief minister and CPI(M) leader Buddhadeb Bhattacharya and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the opinion poll said.
Also, 23 percent respondents found the Centre's performance as poor or very poor, the survey said.
The surveys conducted by other agencies also predicted similar results in the forthcoming assembly elections in the state.
So, what are the reasons behind ruling TMC’s popularity among the voters despite allegations of corruption, hooliganism and involvement in syndicate of TMC leaders in the state?
Firstly, most of the people, which continued to vote for the Left government for 34 years from 1977 to 2011, are still disenchanted with the Left parties for their apathy towards the development of the state. Bengal, which had a glorious past, continued to struggle in every sector - health, education, industry - during the 34-year Red-regime. But, despite the utter failure to develop the state, they had clung to power for such a long time for their tremendous skills to run a well-oiled cadre-based party. For them, the party and unions were the most important things. Their labour unions compelled many factories to shut down their business in the state. Another problem which also affected their performance was the age-old perception about running the state affairs. They failed to see the aspirations of the young generation and could not adapt themselves to the changing atmosphere of modern times. There are many people in the state, especially the young generation, who don’t want to go back to the suffocating atmosphere of that regime anymore.
After taking over the reins of West Bengal, the Mamata Banerjee-led government has tried to follow the development path unlike the previous regime. Different colleges, universities, engineering and medical colleges have come up in the state. The condition of the healthcare sector has also improved. Several CCU units, NICUs, MRI Centres, fair price medical shops have come up in government hospitals. Many super-speciality hospitals have also been established during the last five years.
Another significant development that was was witnessed was Mamata Banerjee’s keenness to solve the problems of the under-developed and the conflict regions. It was her sheer initiatives and political will which helped her government pacify the tension in the Jungle Mahal (the Maoist-affected areas of West Midnapore) and Darjeeling. She was able to break the control of Bimal Gurung-led Gorkha Jana Mukti Morcha in the hills.
North Bengal has always been a neglected part. Despite voting CPM-led Left Front government to power for years, the people of this region never got the taste of development before 2011. Mamata Banerjee envisioned a plan for the area, setting up a different ministry and a mini-secretariat for the development of the region.
But, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s master-stroke was the implementation of different social schemes in the state. Kanyashree (welfare scheme for the girls), Yuvashree (welfare schemes the unemployed youths), distribution of cycles to the students (Sabuj Sathi), distribution of shoes to the school students and other such schemes, all helped the marginalised sections of the state. Distribution of rice at a price of just Rs 2 to all families living below the poverty line has won support from the poor in the state. And it is no wonder Mamata Banerjee is banking heavily on these people to help her retain hold on power.
However, despite improved performance in different sectors, the growth of industry remains as grim as ever. There is a lack of overall policy for the tangible growth of industry in the state. If Mamata Banerjee is serious about solving the problem of unemployment in the state, the government, if it retains power, has to win hearts of industrialists.
But, what has already dented the reputation of Mamata Banerjee as an honest politician is the allegation of corruption against senior party leaders and her cabinet colleagues. Different scams including multi-crore Saradha chit-fund scam and Narada sting operation showing TMC leaders accepting money, have somewhat dented her reputation.
It is no wonder that the CPM-Congress alliance has intensified its attack on the TMC over the allegations of corruption and has already made the battle a bit tough for the ruling party. But, political pundits are still predicting a win for the TMC for its work for the downtrodden and influence among the Muslim voters which have almost 25 percent share in the state.
(Biswajit Jha is a guest writer. Views expressed here are his own.)