West Bengal panchayat polls: Mamata Didi’s magic lives on

Updated: Jul 31, 2013, 09:57 AM IST

Ritesh K Srivastava

Despite all odds, controversies, criticism and anti-incumbency, West Bengal’s firebrand Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s party - the Trinamool Congress (TMC) – swept the three-tier panchayat polls in the state, mauling the Left Front badly.

TMC`s victory is also significant as the rural polls were held in the backdrop of intriguing court battles following clashes between the West Bengal government and the State Election Commission, violence and complaints of terror, rigging and intimidation mostly by the Opposition (Left Front and Congress).

The violence-marred panchayat polls were viewed as a curtain raiser to the 2014 General Elections and the biggest test of Mamata Banerjee’s popularity since her party came to power in 2011. Hence, by winning the crucial rural elections, Mamata has once again proved her stature as a ‘mass leader’ and that she still rules the roost in West Bengal.

What proves this point further is the fact that TMC won 13 of the 17 districts councils cornering the Left, which was reduced to winning only in Jalpaiguri. TMC added salt to the injury by routing the Left Front from some of its traditional strongholds like Burdwan and Hoogly. The Congress won just one in Murshidabad while it was a hung result in Malda and North Dinajpur.

Besides winning a majority of district councils, the TMC also captured 213 out of 329 panchayat samities and 1763 out of 3215 gram panchayat seats.

In the three-tier elections, an impressive 84.56 percent of the 4.4 crore electorate cast their franchise for 58,865 seats in five phases - July 11, 15, 19, 22 and 25.

There are 755 Zilla Parishad (district councils) constituencies spread over 17 Zilla Parishads, 8,864 Panchayat Samiti constituencies in 341 Panchayat Samities and 36,016 Gram Panchayat constituencies in 3,354 Gram Panchayats across the state.

In the panchayat samities, the Trinamool`s success story was more spectacular, as it was won over 70 percent of the bodies, as compared to about 60 percent in the gram panchayats.

Mamata Banerjee’s thumping victory in the panchayat polls has many political connotations for the ruling Trinamool Congress, the Left Front and for the CM herself in view of her ambition to play a kingmaker in the national politics.

Didi rules the roost in WB

Trinamool’s landslide victory will allow Mamata Didi to maintain her firm grip over her party and the government. The panchayat results will also put to rest speculations about a possible split in the party. There were murmurs sometimes back that a faction of the party, opposed to Mamata’s authoritarian nature, was engineering a split and planning to join the party’s estranged ally, the Congress.

The poll results will re-establish the credibility of her government, which was damaged after the Sardha chit fund scam, involving several TMC leaders, came to fore. The results will help her silence her critics and manage the rebellion within her party.

Left Front - Time to rediscover

The CPI-(Marxist) led Left Front, which had established its dominance in 13 districts in the 2008 elections, suffered colossal losses in the panchayat polls, particularly in South Bengal. However, it managed to save its face in some of the northern districts, where it mainly benefited from a triangular contest with the Trinamool cutting into the traditional bases of the Congress.

The Left Front finished as the single largest combination in the gram panchayats of Jalpaiguri district, and led in the samities. It also came up with a good show in Murshidabad, Malda and North Dinajpur districts, traditional strongholds of the Congress. It hoped to revive its fortunes in some of its former red forts like Burdwan, Bankura, Birbhum, North 24 Parganas, West Midnapore, Cooch Behar and Hooghly, but suffered huge setbacks.

Both Left and Congress accused the Trinamool of adopting unethical tactics and using ‘terror machinery’ to threaten voters to win the elections. To buttress their point, the Opposition also referred to the Trinamool’s victory on 6,250 seats ‘unopposed and uncontested’ and claimed that their representatives were not allowed to file nomination. Such allegations have been rejected by the TMC chief, who terms it as a "victory of Maa Maati Manush (Mother, Land and People)."

Clearly, Left Front’s ‘terror machinery’ theory had no takers and it failed to impress the voters. The TMC’s landslide victory will compel the Left leadership to rediscover itself if it aims to make a comeback in a state where it was in power for 34 years.

More bargaining power for West Bengal

Ever since Mamata Banerjee became chief minister, many controversies and scams have dogged her government but her party’s phenomenal success in the panchayat polls will probably bring the focus back on governance. From the state assembly to the grass-root gram panchayat level, she will possibly govern the state without any opposition.

After Trinamool’s clean sweep in the panchayat polls, Mamata would now want to extend the electoral gains by winning at least 30-34 of the total 40 Lok Sabha seats in the 2014 elections. This will assert her status as a kingmaker at the Centre and help her bargain key portfolios in lieu of her support.

Her enhanced status post rural body elections will probably make her more aggressive and less tolerant towards the Congress-led UPA government, with which Trinamool snapped all ties few months back.

Another possibility could be a pre-poll tie up with the BJP ahead of 2014 Lok Sabha elections, indications of which came when the saffron party withdrew its candidate for the Howrah Lok Sabha bypoll in Trinamool’s favour.

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