Kolkata: With the recent bypolls marking a continuing slide in its vote share since the rout in the 2011 Assembly polls, the Left Front in West Bengal is eyeing the approaching panchayat election with concern.
The panchayat election is an acid test for both the Left Front and the Trinamool Congress. While the LF expects recovery of its lost voter base, the TMC is keen to see that its popularity is kept intact.
The Panchayati Raj System, introduced in West Bengal by the Left Front a year after its historic massive victory in the 1977 Assembly polls, has always been a true reflector of swing in the power equation in West Bengal.
The elected three-tier Panchayat system - gram panchayats, panchayat samitis and zilla parishads - covers more than 200 Assembly seats, out of 294 seats in Bengal.
Apart from the declining vote share, the LF, which till the last panchayat poll in 2008 held over 12 Zilla Parishads, is also worried about alleged terror let loose by the ruling Trinamool Congress in the rural areas.
"Hundreds of our party workers have been rendered homeless by the reign of terror unleashed by Trinamool Congress. TMC leaders in rural areas are threatening that they won’t allow the Left Front to field candidates," CPI(M) leader Mohammed Salim charged.
The two most important factors dictating the fate of rural polls are mass base in the rural population and acceptability among the minorities which constitute nearly 30 percent of the total electorate of the state. The Left`s ground has slipped in both the segments.
The LF had enjoyed uninterrupted power in rural areas for more than three decades by milking the benefits of its landmark land reforms and land distribution.
The anti-land acquisition protests in Singur and Nandigram in 2007 queered the pitch for the LF which suffered major reverses in the 2008 panchayat election. The election saw the TMC emerge victorious in East Midanpore and South 24-Parganas rural bodies which were till then considered as an impregnable Left fort.
On the issue of minority votes too, the Sachar committee report - which painted a grim picture of the condition of Muslims in the state - and the anti-land acquisition protests served as a severe jolt to the minority vote bank of the Left Front.
The Left leadership is now doubtful if it would be able at all to field candidates in all rural seats.
"If we are able to field candidates in all panchayat segments, then we are hopeful of a good result. But we don’t know how the polls will be conducted under this Trinamool administration," CPI(M) leader Rabin Deb said.
Apprehending partisan functioning by the state administration, the Left leadership has demanded that the election be held in three phases and under the supervision of central forces.
"We want the polls to be held in three phases under the supervision of central forces. Only then a free and fair rural poll can take place in the state," state secretary of RSP Khsiti Goswami said.
The Left Front leaders are now pinning hopes on the disillusionment among masses, including the minorities, over the misgovernance of the Trinamool regime.
"The people wanted a change and the political change took place in Bengal. Now the people are witnessing the nature of the change," CPI state secretary Manju kumar Majumdar said.
The LF`s hope of a turnaround received a severe jolt as the results of the recent by polls showed there was further erosion of vote share.
Though it managed to wrest a seat from the Congress, it was only due to the division of votes between the Congress and the TMC.
"The results have shown that this theory of turnaround is still a day dream. We need a change in our leadership, CPI (M) veteran Abdur Rezzak Mollah said with his tongue firmly in cheek.
The LF calculations now seem to solely wrest on division of anti-left votes between the Congress and the TMC.