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Mainstream, VOL L, No 25, June 9, 2012

Bengal Civic Polls: TMC Retains Hold Over Urban Voters

Tuesday 12 June 2012, by Barun Das Gupta

Six municipalities in West Bengal went to polls earlier this month. The result: The Trinamul Congress (TMC) wrested four of them, three from the Left Front and one from the Congress, while the CPI-M and the Congress could retain their control in two—Haldia and Coopers Camp respectively.

The six civic bodies were spread across the whole State—Haldia and Panshkura in the south, Nalhati and Durgapur in the west, Dhupguri in the north and Coopers Camp in the centre. What would happen in the two municipalities of Haldia and Durgapur was a matter of considerable speculation because both were considered to be impregnable bastions of the CPI-M and both were in predominantly industrial areas.

Haldia, once considered to be the personal fief of the former CPI-M MP, Laxman Seth (now in judicial custody in connection with a number of murder cases), had voted the CPI-M to power even in 2007, after the Nandigram massacres. But this time the CPI-M tally fell from 18 to 15, while that of the TMC rose from seven to 11. Preliminary reports from Haldia suggest that infighting in the TMC camp was partly responsible for its defeat and the consequent victory of the CPI-M which had practically given up all hope of retaining Haldia. Even after the voting ended, CPI-M heaveyweight leader and former Minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah had told the press that his party was going to lose all the six municipalities and the TMC would make a clean sweep of the polls.

In Durgapur, the CPI-M not only lost to the TMC but what is more significant is that in the two CITU-dominated nerve-centres of the civic body, namely, the Durgapur Steel Plant and the Alloy Steel Plant areas, the CPI-M was wiped out and the TMC made a clean sweep of all the eight seats.

The only place where the TMC could be said to have suffered a convincing defeat is the Coopers Camp. Local Congress satrap Shankar Singh, one of the most vocal critics of Mamata Banerjee in the Pradesh Congress in league with Adhir Chowdhury and Deepa Das Munshi, not only retained his hold, but practically swept the polls, winning eleven out of twelve. The TMC had to remain satisfied with just one.

A prestigious win for the TMC was Nalhati, where Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukher-jee’s son was in charge of the Congress poll campaign. And thereby hangs a tale. In the civic elections, there was no jote or alliance between the Congress and TMC—the former deciding to go it alone. Theoretically the civic polls saw a triangular fight between the TMC, Congress and CPI-M or Left Front. In reality, there was an unannounced electoral understanding between the Congress and CPI-M—each deciding to help the other in areas where one was weak. The TMC fought alone and won against the Congress-CPI-M alliance.

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THE sustained negative propaganda carried out by a section of the print or electronic media also had some impact on the urban voter. This section of the media—both in Kolkata and Delhi—has hit upon a novel method to denigrate Mamata. The are not talking about her policies which they dislike intensely but which are perceived to be pro-people—opposition to SEZ, opposition to chemical hubs, opposition to FDI in retail trade, no State facilitatation in purchasing land by the industrialists from owners of land, clearing government hospitals of touts, taking strong measures against private hospitals wherever proved negligent (like the AMRI fire in which several top businessmen directors had to spend long months in jail).

Instead, they have hit upon a novel idea of running her down by highlighting her manne-risms, eccentricities and idiosyncrasies and concentrating their fire on these. Her mecurial temperament, her intolerance of criticism, her jumping to hasty conclusions before checking her facts (as in the Park Street rape case which she had initially dismissed as a ‘got-up’ one), her habit of discovering a CPI-M hand behind everything that puts her government in a bad light, her storming out of a debate organised by a TV channel where she accused an interlocutor of being a ‘Maoist supporter’—all these are grists to their propaganda mill. Every successful negative propaganda against her and her party objectively helps the CPI-M which is now in the political dog-house, as it were.

Both the print and electronic media have now a far wider coverage in both urban and rural areas than they had a decade earlier. People regularly tune in to several TV channels and avidly listen to the so-called ‘debates’ which are thinly-veiled propaganda against the ruling TMC and its leader. If the civic poll results are any indication, such politically-motived propa-ganda has had little impact on the urban
voter. They are less likely to have an impact on the rural voter who are every day seeing the ‘change’—coming ever so slowly or in ever so small doses—that is taking place in their day-to-day experience. Their verdict will be known next year when the panchayat polls take place.

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