Trinamool passes popularity test, with twin failures (West Bengal newsletter)

June 9th, 2012 - 1:33 pm ICT by IANS  

Mamata Banerjee Kolkata, June 9 (IANS) West Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress has passed its first major popularity test, bagging four of the state’s six civic bodies after contesting the elections on its own strength. But the loss of East Midnapore’s Haldia to the Left Front and Nadia district’s Cooper’s Camp to the Congress has been a wake-up call for Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s party.

The message from the voters is clear - the government needs to deliver and provide a clean and strong administration with little scope for party leaders to fleece industrialists, as was the allegation in Haldia.

Political pundits had dubbed the polls not only as the first political test for the Trinamool and the opposition Left Front after the 2011 assembly poll but also an assessment of the “need for mutual political dependence” between strained allies Congress and Trinamool, who went their separate ways for the first time after the assembly polls.

In terms of popularity, the Trinamool achieved big wins in the Dhupguri municipality in Jalpaiguri district and the Durgapur Municipal Corporation in Burdwan district. In both these civic bodies, the Left tasted defeat after over a decade.

The results showed that even after a year in office, the Trinamool was ahead of the Left.

The Trinamool’s claim that its base was intact in semi-rural Bengal was cemented with its wins in the Panskura municipality in East Midnapore district and Nalhati municipality in Birbhum district.

Nalhati was seen as a test for Congress legislator Abhijit Mukherjee, the son of Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

But an in-depth analysis of the Trinamool’s failure in Haldia, a short distance from Nandigram which was the cradle of political change that last year ousted the Left Front after 34 years in power, shows that Banerjee’s party still needs the Congress in several pockets.

After the arrest of former Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) member of parliament (MP) and party strongman Laxman Seth over his alleged involvement in the 2007 Nandigram violence, the Haldia civic polls turned into a prestige fight for the Trinamool and the CPI-M.

The poll was also seen as the parameter for the mass acceptance of the two parties in East Midnapore, which switched loyalties after the Nandigram police firing and helped the Trinamool rise like a phoenix.

The Left Front’s unexpected success in Haldia surprised both the camps.

While the Trinamool was overconfident, the CPI-M, which has been at the receiving end in the industrial township since the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, feared “faring poorly” in the polls.

Some Trinamool insiders cited high-handedness of party MP and East Midnapore strongman Suvendu Adhikari as one of the reasons for the defeat.

The Trinamool’s grief for Haldia aggravated after ally Congress managed to retain Cooper’s Camp in a straight fight against the Trinamool, which later bragged about its ability to go it alone in future elections.

This followed a quick reaction from the Congress, which said it had no compulsion to continue the alliance.

Whatever the Trinamool might say, the division of votes and the results of the civic polls have sent out one more message: the division of anti-Left votes was not only a deciding factor in Haldia but has also played a big role in bringing down the Trinamool’s margin in the civic bodies it won as compared to the 2011 assembly polls.

(Pradipta Tapadar can be contacted at pradipta.t@ians.in)

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