Bengal power shift

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Mamata Banerjee’s semi-final surge has one minor hiccup — the congress still retains some minority base, says  Partha Dasgupta

SMILES AND TEARS
Mamata Banerjee in jubilant mood after TMC’s poll success.
Photo : Pintu Pradhan

WHEN MAMATA Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the West Bengal Congress filed for separation a month ahead of the West Bengal municipal polls, the beleaguered CPM hoped it would benefit from the split vote. But now it has cause to dread the 2011 Assembly polls, largely believed to be its Waterloo-in-waiting.

It was a stunning victory for Mamata. In Kolkata, the TMC won 95 out of 141 seats — a good 20-odd more than any opinion or exit poll was ready to give her. The Congress, adamant that it deserved half of the seats in the event of an alliance, was left with a paltry 10. The victory margin in neighbouring Salt Lake is spectacular too. Out of the 81 civic bodies that went for polls, Mamata is a clear winner with 26 (an increase of 21), the Left a sorry 17 and Congress a distant third with 7.

“This seems a function of mass hysteria and not a mandate against us,” incumbent Mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya told TEHELKA over phone, sounding cynical and resigned. “If you can win civic bodies without making development an election issue, it’s an ominous sign for democracy,” said Bhattacharyya who, despite the debacle, insists that one shouldn’t write the CPM off so easily.

Behind all the euphoria surrounding Mamata is some hard math. Her party was expected to do well in South Bengal even without the alliance. Indeed, the Congress is reduced to a mere cipher in South Bengal. The Kolkata and Salt Lake results will influence the electorate in 2011 to a large extent.

But the 31 boards with a hung verdict hystehold the key to the future. Arithmetically, a post-poll alliance between the Congress and TMC will win most of these boards for the opposition. And that is what appears likely to happen. There are chances that the Congress might go with the Left to grab a few civic boards, particularly in pockets where anti-Mamata sentiments in the Congress ranks run high. This means that Mamata is unlikely to make it to the Writers’ Building on her own but is clearly in a position of strength from which she can negotiate with the Congress in 2011.

Interestingly, because of the non-alliance, she has queered the pitch more for the Congress than the Congress has for her — Old Malda and Englishbazar in Malda district and Jangipur in Murshidabad district being glaring examples where the Left has benefited from the rift in the opposition.

Significantly, Javed Khan, projected by TMC to be the next Mayor, and Rukbanur Rahman, brother of Rizwanur, whose mysterious death three years ago sent a huge shock-wave across West Bengal, lost their elections in contiguous municipal wards, completely against the tide. It appears that the non-Bengali speaking Muslims, who voted en masse for TMC in the Lok Sabha elections, have to an extent shifted their allegiance to the Congress. Couple this with the TMC’s results in the minority dominated districts of Murshidabad and Nadia, even in 24 Parganas (South) and Mamata has some serious work to do with the minority community. This is perhaps the only ace up the Congress’ sleeve when it sits with her at the negotiating table before the 2011 elections.

Tata’s Nano rolled out from Sanand, Gujarat, on June 2, the day of the municipal poll results. But Mamata doesn’t need the people’s car, she is already riding a wave of electoral success.

WRITER’S EMAIL
partha@tehelka.com

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