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Left bastions crumble in TMC landslide

Left bastions crumble in TMC landslide
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First Published: Sat, May 14 2011. 12 57 AM IST

Great expectations: Mamata Banerjee speaks to the supporters outside her residence in Kolkata on Friday.
Great expectations: Mamata Banerjee speaks to the supporters outside her residence in Kolkata on Friday.
Updated: Sat, May 14 2011. 12 57 AM IST
Kolkata: Ten minutes before noon on Friday, when Mamata Banerjee emerged from her home to address supporters, the Harish Chatterjee Street residence in south Kolkata’s Kalighat area had turned into a pilgrimage spot of sorts.
Thousands of Trinamool Congress workers, who had thronged her home since morning, had already begun celebrating with the party and its partner, the Congress, jointly leading at that point in some 215 of West Bengal’s 294 assembly seats.
The alliance eventually won 227 seats, with the Trinamool Congress alone claiming 184 seats, the Congress, 42, and Socialist Unity Centre of India (Suci) winning one seat.
The Left Front, which in 2006, won 235 assembly seats, could only manage to win 61 seats this year, with 27 of its ministers from the outgoing government losing.
At the time of going to press, counting was still in progress for 6 seats of which the Trinamool Congress was leading in five and Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, in one.
Great expectations: Mamata Banerjee speaks to the supporters outside her residence in Kolkata on Friday.
As Banerjee was spotted coming out, her supporters went berserk—it took her a while to silence them. Banerjee announced Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had called from Afghanistan to congratulate her on ending the Left Front’s 34-year unbroken rule in West Bengal.
More celebrations followed as Banerjee dedicated the victory to the people of the state, calling it a “victory of democracy” and the end of a “freedom struggle”. She kept her address short, requesting supporters to move on and make space for others who were on their way.
Later in the day, she received calls from many leaders, including Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Haseena and Congress chairperson Sonia Gandhi. “It seemed the two Bengals had come together to celebrate this great moment,” Banerjee said after answering Haseena’s call.
Within an hour of her first address to her supporters at noon, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee reached Raj Bhavan, the official residence of governor M.K. Narayanan, to tender his resignation.
Not only was the Left Front led by the CPM, comprehensively beaten, even the chief minister lost in south Kolkata’s Jadavpur constituency by over 16,000 votes against the Trinamool Congress’ Manish Gupta, a former bureaucrat who had served under him.
This is the first time an outgoing chief minister of West Bengal has been defeated after Prafulla Sen in 1967.
“This was completely unthinkable,” said Gautam Deb, housing minister in the outgoing government and one of the CPM’s star campaigners. He lost in Kolkata’s Dumdum constituency to a political debutant, the Trinamool Congress’ Bratya Basu, by 31,000 votes.
Most remarkable in the Trinamool Congress’ victory was its sweep in some districts such as Kolkata, Howrah and East Midnapore, where the Left Front didn’t win a single seat. Even in traditional bastions such as Bankura, Purulia, Burdwan and West Midnapore districts, the CPM-led alliance suffered huge losses.
In the Burdwan South constituency, Nirupam Sen, CPM politburo member and commerce and industries minister in the outgoing government, lost by over 35,000 votes to retired professor and Trinamool Congress candidate Rabi Ranjan Chattopadhyay.
Only eight ministers from the outgoing government, which included health minister Surjya Kanta Mishra, managed to win. Nine ministers did not contest. Many more such as Sen wouldn’t have contested unless pressured by the party.
CPM leaders were confident of regaining power up to an hour after counting began at 8am on Friday.
“The assessment of our supporters was incorrect,” said Biman Bose, CPM politburo member and Left Front chairman in West Bengal, promising to learn lessons from the results.
The Left Front will act as a “responsible and constructive opposition” and back the pro-people policies of the Trinamool Congress, he said.
The results indicate the Left Front’s vote share may have declined by up to 5 percentage points from the 2009 general election, according to Left leaders who did not want to be named.
In 2009, the Left Front received 43% of the polled votes —down from 51% in the 2006 assembly election—and led in only around 100 assembly constituencies. The Trinamool Congress’ vote share in this election may have risen to 50%, they added.
“With its slogan for change, it appears that the opposition managed to win the trust of the people and consolidate votes,” Bose said.
Shortly before 6pm, when Banerjee left home to meet the governor to stake her claim to form a new government in a small black car wading through a sea of supporters, she said she wished to include the Congress and Suci, the Trinamool Congress’ alliance partners, in the new government.
However, it isn’t immediately known whether the Congress will join the government. The decision is to be taken after Union finance minister and senior Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee meets Banerjee on Saturday.
Banerjee, who did not contest the polls, is likely to be sworn in as chief minister next week and will have to get elected in six months.
Industry leaders congratulated Banerjee on her victory. Rama Prasad Goenka, chairman emeritus of the group named after him, said: “This is not the time to ask what she can do for us, but to tell her what we can do to help her regain Bengal’s lost glory.”
Son Sanjiv Goenka, vice-chairman of the RPG Group, issued a statement from London: “I continue to be committed to investing strongly in the state.”
ITC Ltd issued a statement citing its chairman Y.C. Deveshwar: “I extend our warm greetings to Mamata Banerjee and look forward to continuing our partnership with the state government to enlarge our investment contribution in West Bengal.”
Turning point
Nandigram, 14 March 2007: At least 14 people protesting against a proposed land acquisition were killed in police firing in Nandigram in East Midnapore district, where the state government had planned a chemical hub. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee apologized for the police firing and abandoned the project, but the incident helped Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee foment a statewide agitation against West Bengal’s industrial policy. This eventually forced Tata Motors to pull the plug on its small car project in Singur in October 2008—another major setback for the state government.
Key agenda of the winning party
• Administrative reforms to create a good and impartial government
• Focus on small and medium enterprises and closed public sector companies
•Attracting private investment in engineering, steel, jute and food processing industries
•Revamping healthcare sector, creating opportunities for private investment
•Improving education with an eye on developing special skills
Sidelights
•Twenty-seven of West Bengal’s 44 ministers in the outgoing government,including chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, lost. It is only the second time an outgoing chief minister of West Bengal has faced defeat.
•In three districts—Kolkata, Howrah and East Midnapore—the Left Front failed to win any seat at all.
•Mamata Banerjee will be sworn in as chief minister even though she didn’t contest the election. She will contest a by-election within six months.
Voting percentage: 84%, highest ever
romita.d@livemint.com
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First Published: Sat, May 14 2011. 12 57 AM IST