The Trinamool Congress Wednesday crushed West Bengal`s ruling Left Front in civic polls seen as a trial run to next year`s make-or-break assembly election, wresting the prestigious Kolkata Municipal Corporation and scores of urban municipalities in the state.
As thousands of Trinamool activists cheered their leader and Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata and scores of towns, the party demanded an immediate assembly election saying the Left had lost the right to rule West Bengal. A shaken Left rejected the demand.
The Congress, which had refused to have a tie-up with the Trinamool ahead of Sunday`s polls, finished a poor third in most places but still held the key to power in many municipalities.
But the day clearly belonged to Banerjee, a former Youth Congress activist whose one-point mission is to end the Left stranglehold on West Bengal, a sprawling state the Communists have ruled without interruption since 1977 - a world record.
An upbeat Banerjee told a news conference here: "The state government has lost all right to be in power. Assembly elections should be held immediately."
Congress leader and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who does not get along well with the young Banerjee, congratulated her for the "excellent performance" and accepted that his own party has fared "badly".
While Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee refused to comment on the results, Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) state secretary and Left Front chairman Biman Bose rejected the demand for early assembly polls.
"There is no question of preponing the elections. We have 5.2 million voters in the state, only 17 percent of who took part in the civic polls," he said. It was a hint that the CPI-M, which dominates the Left Front, still feels it can outdo the opposition in rural areas.
Continuing a trend seen since last year`s Lok Sabha polls, West Bengal`s urban voters gave the thumbs down to the Left even though the Trinamool as well as the Congress did not unitedly fight the elections.
The results are a big boost to the Trinamool, which defied exit poll predictions of a close contest and improved its bargaining power vis-a-vis the Congress for the assembly elections.
Trinamool candidates won 95, or more than two thirds of the seats, in the Kolkata Municipal Corporation`s (KMC) 141 wards. The Left bagged 33 seats, the Congress 10 and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) three. The Left has controlled the KMC since 2005.
The Trinamool also gained control, for the first time, of the Bidhan Nagar municipality, which includes the city`s posh satellite township of Salt Lake.
In the districts, the Trinamool bagged 25 municipalities while the Left saw success in 17 places. The Congress won control of seven bodies.
But there were no clear winners in the remaining 30 municipalities, where the Trinamool would need Congress help to take power.
In Kolkata, once a Marxist citadel, the Trinamool juggernaut rolled on from Kashipore in the north to Garia in the south, from the Muslim belt of Garden Reach in the west to Kasba in the east.
The CPI-M lost even in ward number 100 which had elected Mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya five years ago. The mayor, however, did not contest.
Among the Trinamool`s potential mayoral nominees, Sobhan Chattopadhay won. But the other heavyweight, Javed Khan, suffered an upset defeat.
The Trinamool virtually reduced the Left Front to a token presence in the industrial belts neighbouring Kolkata -- in districts like north 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas and Hooghly.
The party also made deep inroads into Burdwan, until now a Red bastion.
As the results poured in, Trinamool candidates and supporters celebrated wildly all over Kolkata. The Left had been in control of 54 of the 81 civic bodies, including KMC.
Sunday`s civic polls were considered a semi-final ahead of next year`s assembly elections at a time the Left is facing its most serious challenge to power.
"A Mamata cyclone is blowing in Bengal," Trinamool MP Sudip Bandyopadhyay told IANS in New Delhi. "Let the Congress give the whole responsibility of assembly election to Mamata Banerjee."
Left Front constituent Forward Bloc blamed the CPI-M`s "arrogance" for the rout. "It is the main cause for the dismal show by the Left," its general secretary Debabrata Biswas told IANS.