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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 20, May 9, 2015

Trinamul Sweeps Civic Elections In Bengal: Glory Marred By Violence

Saturday 9 May 2015, by Barun Das Gupta

Municipal elections were held in West Bengal on April 18 and 25. As expected and as predicted by pre-poll surveys, the ruling Trinamul Congress swept the polls, capturing seventy of the ninetytwo civic bodies. Six were captured by the Left, five by the Congress while in twelve no party got a clear majority. The BJP drew a blank, failing to capture a single body. Its vote percentage declined sharply by eight per cent compared to its performance in the Lok Sabha elections last year.

What is more significant, though the vote-share of the Left also dwindled, it left the saffron party far behind and emerged as the second largest force after the TMC. To its credit, a debilitated Congress also performed better than expected, winning five municipalities. An analysis of poll results also showed that the majority of the voters, who deserted the BJP this time, went over to the TMC, not to the Left. This should be a cause of concern for both the Left and BJP.

This is the large print. But in the fine print lies another story that considerably wears off the sheen of glory of the TMC victory. Though the TMC knew it was going to win hands down in a free and far election, it could not resist the temptation of using muscle-power against its opponents on a large scale for winning a few more seats. This was quite unnecessary. Of course, the TMC may argue that ‘terror tactics’ were adopted by others also wherever they had the necessary muscle-power. The death of a TMC worker in the Congress stronghold of Katwa is a case in point. But being the ruling party the TMC had much greater muscle-power than its opponents.

Booth-wise analysis of polling in several municipalities showed that there was one-sided voting as used to take place during the heyday of the CPI-M/LF rule. To give an example, in the Kolkata Municipal Corporation elections, in booth No. 29 of ward No. 4, the TMC polled 1025 votes, while the CPI-M got 23, BJP 21 and Congress four. This voting pattern was visible in booth after booth.

In typical CPI-M-style, many booths were ‘captured’ by the TMC ‘volunteers’ and votes were cast wholesale for the TMC. The presiding officer, other polling staff, the police and polling agents of other parties watched helplessly. Polling agents of Opposition parties were hounded out of many booths in Kolkata as well as in the district towns. For example, at Barrackpore, an industrial town north of Kolkata, a veteran journalist saw three TMC volunteers posted inside the screened enclosure where the EVM was kept. He was peremptorily ordered to push button No. 3 (that of the TMC candidate). When he protested and said he would like to vote for the candidate he preferred and politely requested the ‘volunteers’ to leave the enclosure, pat came the answer: “We know your choice is for No. 3, so push that button and leave.”

In fact there was a competition between the local TMC bosses in different areas to impress ‘Didi’ (CM Mamata Banerjee) by securing as many votes for the party candidate as possible. Even without this overdrive, the TMC candidates would have won. The unfair means adopted only blotted the glory of victory. Mamata Banerjee, of course, held the elections to be absolutely free and fair. She declared the State police to be the ‘Man of the Match’, despite the totally passive role they played and despite their obvious unwillingness to intervene when rigging was taking place right before their eyes.

Also, the civic elections saw intense group-fighting in the TMC. In Kolkata, Deputy Mayor Farzana Alam and Chairman of the KMC Sachchidananda Banerjee and another heavyweight councilor Paresh Pal were defeated because of this. Farzana was even manhandled by her partymen and had to be hospitalised. These incidents show that Mamata is losing control on party workers at the lower levels. Open factional fights in the TMC are nothing new but Mamata has not been able to stop them.

What has surprised political observers in the State is that the TMC, which grew in strength, consolidated its position and ultimately routed the CPI-M/LF in the 2011 State Assembly elections by organising people’s resistance to wholesale rigging by the ruling Front in collusion with the police and administrative machinery, should have adopted the same means and resorted to the same techniques that spelt the doom of the Left just four years ago. Have the TMC and its supreme leader learnt nothing from their own experience, the memory of which should be still fresh in their mind? Terror tactics and intimidation do not pay in the long run. Unless the TMC retraces its steps and stops going the CPI-M way, it will meet with the same fate as the Left did four years ago.

There is no denying the fact that Mamata has done considerable good work, especially in the rural areas. Metalled roads have been built that connect remote villages. Schools and colleges have been opened in rural Bengal. Hospitals and health centres have been set up and the old ones upgraded where medicines are available at cheaper than market price. Then there is the Kanyashree Prakalpa, which is her brainchild. Under it unmarried girls in the 13 to 18 age-group get an annual scholarship of five hundred rupees if the joint annual income of their parents is up to Rs 1.2 lakh. Those willing to continue their education still further get a one-time grant of Rs 25,000.

But all the good work done by her will come to nought if she cannot discipline her party strictly, put an end to inner-party squabbles and stop adopting undemocratic means to win elections. The people will not tolerate any infringement of their democratic rights. The fate of the CPI-M is the biggest proof of this.

The author was a correspondent of The Hindu in Assam. He also worked in Patriot, Compass (Bengali), Mainstream. A veteran journalist, he comes from a Gandhian family and was intimately associated with the RCPI leader, Pannalal Das Gupta.

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