Kolkata: If one goes by the outcome of the recently held municipal elections in West Bengal, the anti-incumbency factor alone could drive the state’s Left Front government out of power in the 2011 assembly elections.
The state’s main ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, and its allies won only three of the 16 municipalities where elections were held on 28 June. An alliance of the main opposition Trinamool Congress, led by Mamata Banerjee, and the Congress, was victorious in the remaining 13. Of these, the Trinamool Congress won six of the municipalities on its own and the Congress three.
Five years ago, the Left Front had won 10 of these 16 municipalities; the Congress had won four, and the Trinamool Congress just one. The Dankuni municipality was created recently and polling for it took place for the first time last month.
The results forced Left Front chairman Biman Bose, who is also a member of the CPM politburo—the party’s highest decision making body—to admit that the Front, which has ruled the state for 32 years, had failed to “live up to (the) people’s expectations”.
Voters queue up to cast their votes at a polling station during the recent municipal elections in West Bengal. The CPM and its allies won only three of the 16 municipalities where elections were held. The results have forced the Left Front to admit that the party has failed to live up to people’s expectations. PTI
These results came as the Left Front was reeling from setbacks in the general election held over April and May, and the 2008 elections to panchayats or village councils.
“I don’t see any significant change (in voting pattern) from the general election… We are reviewing the results and its implications,” said Bose on Wednesday, after the municipal election results were announced.
The comment was in contrast to the Left parties’ reaction on their poor showing in the general election. The Left had then chosen to blame the idea of a Third Front—a non-Congress, non-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance that it had tried to cobble together—as the primary reason for rejection by voters.
“People did not think that the alternative that we (the Left) had suggested was viable,” West Bengal’s commerce and industries minister Nirupam Sen had told Mint a month ago.
If it were assembly elections in the state, or civic body polls, the results wouldn’t have been as bad, he had claimed then. The CPM claimed that its vote share in the municipal polls was marginally better than the general election, but refused to reveal the figures.
In the general election, the Left Front got 43.3% of the votes, 7.5% less than 2004. Among the Left parties, the CPM was the biggest loser in the general election—its vote share fell 5.5% from 2004 to 33%. The Left parties together won only 15 Lok Sabha seats compared with 35 in 2004, while the Trinamool Congress-Congress combine won 25.
The CPM’s internal calculations show that in the general election, the Left Front trailed in as many as 195 of the 294 assembly segments in the state, whereas in the 2006 assembly elections the Left parties had won 235 seats.
The Trinamool Congress claimed that its vote share had increased substantially in the municipal elections, but it too couldn’t provide figures to establish its claim.
It did, however, make inroads into newer territories such as Burdwan district, which has traditionally been a CPM stronghold. The Trinamool Congress-Congress combine seized the municipal board in Asansol—an industrial town in Burdwan district—where the CPM had won in the general election.
“The results show people are frustrated,” said Abhirup Sarkar, a professor of economics at Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, and a political commentator. “In a civic body poll, individuals and local issues matter more than the party symbol. But this time, the party symbol determined the result as the anti-incumbency factor manifested itself strongly.”
The Trinamool Congress said the municipal results were an indication that the Left Front didn’t have popular support in the state any more and that the assembly elections, due in 2011, should be advanced.
“The verdict shows people’s complete rejection of the Left Front and its policies… this trend will go on,” said Partha Chatterjee, a Trinamool Congress legislator and the leader of the opposition in the state assembly.
The ruling and the opposition parties in the state are now gearing up for the next battle—the elections for the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC), which are due next year.
The Trinamool Congress, which lost KMC to the CPM in 2005, is hoping for victory this time, buoyed by the greater number of votes it polled with its ally, the Congress party, in 134 of the 141 wards in Kolkata in the general election.