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Will Bengal script a Left resurgence this summer?

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The assembly election in West Bengal was seen as a cake walk for the Trinamool Congress.  At the end of the fourth phase, the ruling party has raised the pitch with its shrill campaign against the opposition and the poll watch dog. Mathew V analyses what went wrong for Mamata Bannerjee’s party this summer.

The deteriorating law and order situation in West Bengal compelled the Election Commission to stagger the elections in over 6 phases and 30 days. 216 assembly seats have seen brisk polling with the voter turnout at an impressive 80 per cent in keeping with the traditional democratic upsurge in the state.  The remaining two phases will vote on 30 April and 5 May respectively.

The first two phases were marred by rigging at the booths, with the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) party hoodlums violating all norms of democratic propriety and operating with impunity, intimidating genuine voters and casting false votes. Many of these ghost voters were operating even after 5 pm in some booths.

Restoration of democracy has been the principal issue of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI(M) led Left Democratic Alternative in West Bengal. The CPI(M) has suffered immensely over the last five years. Criminal elements of the Trinamool Congress  (TMC) have forcibly shut down or taken over CPI (M) party offices, intimidated workers and even killed and maimed  its cadres, after TMC’s historic win  in 2011.

High Stakes in Last Lap: The Seats won by Political Parties in 2011 Assembly Election

Phases Polling day Seats TMC LEFT INC OTHERS BJP
1 A 4th April 18 10 6 2
1 B 11th April 31 18 9 2
2 17th April 56 18 16 17 5*
3 21st April 62 27 19 17 1
4 25th April 49 43 3 2 1
5 30th April 53 48 5 0 1
6 5th May 25 20 4 0
294 184 62 40 7 1

* First phase in the Jungle Mahal area was spread over two days due to security concerns

**3 seats won by GJM , 2 by Independents, 1 by SUCI and 1 seat by Samajwadi Party

As early as January 2016, most political analysts had predicted that Mamata Banerjee’s TMC would take West Bengal easily. Most of them were basing their assumptions on the results of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. However much water had flown down the Hooghly since then. The 2013 Panchayat elections and the 2014 Parliamentary elections saw the complete abdication of responsibilities by the Election Commission and the law enforcement agencies and the abandonment of booths by the CPI(M) led Left Front. 2016 is proving to be a different kettle of fish.  CPI(M) has managed to man almost 80 percent of the 77,000 booths in the state. The Election Commission backed by central paramilitary forces has done a satisfactory job although there was vast scope of improvement. What hardened the poll watchdog’s resolve was the vituperative and coarse language used by chief minister Mamata Banerjee. While threatening to “show cause the Election Commission” she vitiated the political discourse, thereby lowering the dignity of her office, and the image of West Bengal in the rest of India.

The 2016 elections are about the sordid track record and misrule of the TMC in West Bengal. She came on the back of a massive wave of “ poribortan” (change).  No amount of deflection by suave spokespersons of the party can camouflage the ugly truth of rank bad governance by the TMC. Crib deaths, starvation deaths in tea gardens, suicides by farmers (unheard of in Left rule) who were in debt and not getting remunerative prices for their produce, syndicate raj by the lumpen elements associated with the TMC are some of the burning issues faced by the people of West Bengal.  To add to that, there was the chit fund scams encouraged by ministers and the chief minister herself to defraud the poorest of the poor of their hard earned life savings.

Saradha, Rose Valley, MPS were all chit fund scams which had the blessings of the TMC frontline leadership. The Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) were clearly not interested in charge sheeting and prosecuting the guilty. Post the Lok Sabha elections in May 2014, the Narendra Modi government at the centre virtually went on a go slow to stymie the investigation at all levels in return for the support of  Mamata’s party in the Rajya Sabha. Madan Mitra, an accused in the chit fund scams, and a minister has been in prison for the last three years. In an unprecedented development, the TMC supremo, renominated him from Kamarhati assembly constituency. How the voters would benefit from a petty criminal behind bars, assuming he were to win, is incomprehensible?

The voters in the age group of 18-35 have only Chaakri (jobs) on their lips. Many of them have taken one way tickets to other states where job prospects are better. They come back to Bengal only during Durga Puja to meet their loved ones. ABG Shipyard and many other companies were forcibly evicted from Bengal by the TMC government to favour Tutu Bose, an MP belonging to TMC.  Job creation for the masses was definitely not on the agenda of Mamata.

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Travelling across the length and breadth of the state one can find there was a strong anti incumbency against the TMC across the state. Even South Bengal considered the fortress of the party would see ruptures on 19 May, when the results will be announced. The game changer in this election has been an unofficial alliance between arch enemies the CPI(M) and the Congress. In almost all the 294 assembly constituencies save for a few “crossing” seats (seats where the Left and Congress are fighting against each other), the manusher jot (people’s alliance) has been successful in having a one on one fight with the TMC. The fight in West Bengal is no longer triangular. The BJP vote has completely disintegrated. The 17% vote share they won in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections is a distant fading memory. The Narendra Modi wave of 2014 like in the rest of the nation is absent in West Bengal. The BJP is likely to go back to 6-8 percent of the popular vote, representing their true strength in West Bengal.

The CPI(M) Congress alliance has been working in a harmonious manner, with the exception of Murshidabad district, where the alliance is contesting ten seats against each other. The two generals, Surjya Kanta Mishra, the redoubtable state secretary of the CPI(M) and Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury the PCC president of the West Bengal unit of the Congress party are in a blistering attack mode and working as a well knit team.

The sting operation by the Narada news portal confirmed the worst kept secret of the TMC. The party leadership was amenable to betray the mandate of “poribortan” and barter the dignity of their high office for a few pieces of silver. The unedifying scenes of six Lok Sabha MPs, the Mayor of Kolkata, Bobby Hakim, the principal hatchet man of Mamata extorting money from Narada News editor-in-chief Mathew Samuel, who conducted a sting on them, was being beamed across Bengal on all TV channels. The confused TMC leadership first chose to attack the messenger of bad tidings by dismissing the footage as “doctored” and as a  “conspiracy”.

Mamata Banerjee has in the past termed it “sajano ghotona” (concocted incident) at the growing attacks and rapes of women in the state. Nobody bought into that bluster and nobody was buying into the ham handed defence of the TMC spokesperson, Derek O’ Brien. They refused to conduct an impartial probe into the videos and send it for forensic examination to check the veracity of the tapes. The shifting of the TMC stand was fast and furious. Saugato Roy, a Lok Sabha MP said he was ashamed of his misconduct in accepting bribes. Aparupa Poddar claimed she received a “donation” but forgot to give a receipt. In an astounding claim in Bhowanipore on Monday, Mamata exhorted the voters not to vote for her, if they thought she was a “thief”.  At Jadavpur she told voters that they must vote for the TMC candidate Manish Gupta, as he was “not a thief”.

The collapse of the Vivekananda flyover, the snuffing out of 28 innocent lives, and the revelations that syndicates associated with TMC leader and MP Subrata Bakshi forcibly supplied sub standard material to the contractors IVRCL have sparked anger in the urban areas of the state. The shoddy monitoring and implementation by KMDA chairperson Bobby Hakim who extorted five lakhs and was seen taking bribe in the Narada tapes conclusively nailed the TMC lie of “simple living and high thinking”.

Results of seats reserved for scheduled castes and tribes in 2011 assembly election

 

Seats TMC LEFT INC BJP Others
Scheduled castes 69 38 20 10 0 1
Scheduled Tribes 16 4 10 1 0 1
85 42 30 11 0 2

* Others include SUCI who won the SC reserved seat in Joynagar and Wilson Champramary in Kalchini reserved for ST.

The people’s alliance is moving from strength to strength. The electrifying energy at the mass meetings of the Left is a sight to behold. The dwindling attendance of the faithful at the rallies of Mamata is telling. The 30% Muslim population, some of whom in the southern districts had shifted allegiance to the TMC, are now enthusiastically backing the People’s alliance. The revolting flex banners of Mamata Banerjee at strategic street corners of Calcutta, draped in a burqa to woo the Muslim vote, is unlikely to fetch her dividends.  Other than pushing secular Hindus to the BJP camp, it served no purpose. The scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, some of whom had abandoned the Left are also returning to the Left fold after having seen the deleterious effects of “poribortan” in their lives.

In conclusion, while it is difficult to predict the ultimate outcome of this keenly fought contest, it can be safely said that the TMC is no longer as popular as it was in 2011 and a resurgent Left is on a comeback trail. The results in West Bengal will have wide spread ramifications across the nation, and will shape the contours of the Lok Sabha elections in 2019. The rigging by TMC hoodlums can only amplify the results if they are winning. It is impossible to subvert the popular will of the people if they are losing. No government would ever change if only rigging decided electoral outcomes.

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