Kolkata: The Left Front’s support in West Bengal’s East Midnapore district has eroded so much that the alliance led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, could not field a full slate of candidates for elections to two civic bodies in the district.
This is a first in 33 years of Left rule in West Bengal. Even in 2008, a year after the controversy over land acquisition for a proposed special economic zone (SEZ) in the district’s Nandigram area, the Left could field candidates for the panchayat, or village council, polls. But for the municipality elections due on Sunday, it couldn’t persuade people in Tamluk and Contai—two small towns in East Midnapore—to contest as Left candidates in all the wards.
The Left has fielded candidates in only five out of 20 wards in Contai, and in 11 out of 22 wards in Tamluk, the district headquarter.
Listen to Romita Datta talk about why support for the Left is eroding, while that for Mamata Bannerjee appears to be rising in West Bengal
The Left isn’t yet giving up the fight though—they are supporting two local political groups: Pragatisheel Mancha (literally: progressive forum) and Nagarik Mancha (citizens’ forum) in polls to the civic bodies in these two towns.
“We are not in a position to contest on our own in Contai and Tamluk,” said Haraprasad Tripathi, the CPM’s zonal committee member from Contai. The Left parties were forced to back independent candidates because their own supporters were being intimidated by the Trinamool Congress, he said. “So we have agreed to a conditional alliance with independent candidates,” he added.
Elections to 81 municipalities in 16 out of 19 districts of the state are going to be held on Sunday. These are the last scheduled elections to be held ahead of the crucial assembly elections in the state next year.
In the 2006 assembly elections, the Left Front had won in 13 of the 16 seats in East Midnapore, but in the 2009 general election it lost in both the parliamentary constituencies in the district.
The district used to be one of the CPM’s strongholds until early 2007, when the state government’s proposal to build a petrochemical SEZ in Nandigram led to a stand-off between the administration and the locals, who refused to give up their land for the project.
Led by the Trinamool Congress—West Bengal’s main opposition party—and supported by the Maoists, locals laid siege to Nandigram for months, triggering political clashes with CPM supporters.
Eventually, when the administration tried to regain control of Nandigram on 14 March 2007, at least 14 people were killed in police firing. The proposal to build an SEZ there was scrapped.
“We have joined forces with the Left parties to end the stranglehold of the Trinamool Congress on Contai and Tamluk,” said Kanishka Panda, East Midnapore district secretary of the Pragatisheel Mancha. Panda, who till last year was a youth leader of the Congress party, said the Pragatisheel Mancha had brought together disgruntled people from different political parties, even the CPM and the Trinamool Congress.
Interestingly, the Pragatisheel Mancha is using twin leaves as its poll symbol, which is very similar to the Trinamool Congress’ flowers-and-grass symbol.
“They (Left parties) don’t have the courage to fight the election with their own symbols,” said Shishir Adhikari, a Trinamool Congress leader from Contai and a Union minister. “So they are hiding behind independents. You could expect a similar scenario in the 2011 assembly election also.”
The CPM, however, says it’s going to be different next year. “This strategy (of supporting independent candidates) is for this election only,” said CPM state secretariat member Rabin Deb. “Municipality elections are fought on local issues. So we are supporting candidates who are popular with the local people, even those who do not normally vote for the CPM.”