Ritesh K Srivastava
The unexpected outcome of the West Bengal civic polls, which were seen as a semi-final to next year’s Assembly Elections, is indicative of the ‘change’ that has begun to set-in in the Left-dominated state. Trinamool Congress’ historic win in civic polls has come as a big shock for the Left Front, which was hoping to salvage some ground in West Bengal.
Trinamool’s stunning victory is a clear indication of further alienation of the ruling Left Front regime and may have a bearing on the political equations in state, as well as at the Centre in the days to come. By all means, the electoral debacle has shattered Left Front’s dream of making an impressive comeback in the state nearly a year after its shocking defeat in the General Election.
With Trinamool’s excellent performance, party’s firebrand leader Mamata Banerjee has further strengthened her hold on West Bengal voters and caused huge embarrassment to the Buddhadeb government. Buoyed by the excellent showing of her party, Mamata didi is now demanding early Assembly polls given that the Left Front has lost all moral ground to continue in power after its debacle in civic polls.
Unlike 2009, when Trinamool fought the General Elections with the support of the Congress, the party this time took a great deal of risk by deciding to contest the municipal elections alone. However, the gamble paid off well and Trinamool has now silenced its detractors by proving that it is capable of upsetting political equations in the state.
Riding high on the success of her party, Mamata also appears to have got a unique opportunity to renew her ties with the Congress vis-a-vis the forthcoming Assembly Elections. Mamata had in the recent past given many sleepless nights to the Congress high command by opposing the Women’s Reservation Bill, and very recently through her “misleading” statement on the Jhagram train derailment.
Just ahead of the municipal polls, Mamata had accused the Congress of siding with the CPI-M. However, after the results were announced she strangely backtracked, expressed deep faith in the Congress leadership and wished to continue being part of the UPA alliance.
So, clearly Mamata is not keeping her cards open. As of now, the Trinamool camp is busy calculating the size of seat-sharing for Assembly Elections if a tie-up with the Congress materialises. Despite TMC’s victory, a section of the party leaders still feel that it would not be a viable option for the Trinamool to go alone in the Assembly polls, considering that it would have swept civic polls had it tied with the Congress in the first place.
On the other hand, Congress is aware of the Left’s fast shrinking support base and Trinamool’s rise in West Bengal. Trinamool’s historic civic poll win has left the Congress leadership with no option but to keep Mamata in the UPA fold and explore the possibility of a pre-poll alliance with her party for assembly polls.
If civic poll results are any indication, Mamata is slowly inching closer to the Writers` Building, and her party’s slow and steady progress has led both Congress and Trinamool to realise that the two are indispensable for each other at the present juncture.
As far as the Left leadership is concerned, it has already conceded its defeat and accepted the people’s verdict. It’s now time for the Left Front to review thoroughly the factors that led to its rout. The Left’s loss is also being seen as the failure of the Buddhadeb government to connect with its voters, especially its traditional supporters - minority Muslims. The anti-incumbency factor, deteriorating law and order situation, and the Maoists menace further caused a dent in its reputation.
The Left now needs to seek answers as to why such a large number of its traditional supporters are opposing it. The state’s urban voters have given the thumbs down to the Left, which suffered a humiliating defeat even after the major opposition parties, the Trinamool Congress and Congress, did not join hands.
The fact that Muslims are losing faith in the Left leadership is evident from the fact that Trinamool emerged victorious in 14 of the Muslim-dominated wards, while Left could get only four in the prestigious Kolkata Municipal Corporation. This happened despite the Buddhadeb government’s serious effort to woo Muslims by offering them 10% reservation in jobs.
The Muslims in West Bengal, who have supported the Left parties in previous elections, now feel that the CPM government has done nothing to improve their status or help the community.
Given the huge percentage of Muslim votes in West Bengal, any deviation among the community towards the Trinamool or Congress could prove fatal for the Left Front in next year`s Assembly Elections. Muslims’ growing apathy towards the Left also gives validity to the Sachar Committee report, which says the condition of Muslims is deplorable in West Bengal.
Although only about 17% of the total electorate of West Bengal were covered in the civic polls, Trinamool’s victory has positioned it stronger than ever. Trinamool’s winning streak in 2008 panchayat elections, in 2009 General Elections and this year’s civic polls has sent shock waves across the Left Front, leaving it to ponder whether its stint in power is over.
Beginning 1977, the Left Front has ruled the state for a record seven successive terms. However, if the erosion in its support base continues further, then it might have to settle for a spell in the opposition.
The outcome of the civic polls has compelled the Buddhadeb government to take some corrective measures to revive the Left Front’s fortunes, but at the moment the mandate appears to be with the charismatic Mamata Banerjee.