Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Elections-2009: The Fight for Bengal

Ranjit Roy

Left in Bengal likely to suffer a jolt in Lok Sabha elections

Three consecutive reverses in West Bengal Assembly by-elections have put the ruling Left Front in a fix on the eve of the Lok Sabha polls. The Left leaders in general and the CPM in particular could not find a way out to recover before the three-phase Lok Sabha polls in the State slated for April-May. They are still licking the wounds inflicted by the Opposition in the panchayat polls and in Assembly by-polls. The Left candidates have lost by a record margin at Sujapur in Malda, Nandigram in east Midnapore and recently in Bishnupore in south 24 Parganas. The political observers here have described the humiliating defeat of the Left as rural Bengal’s revolt against the communist’s destructive agrarian policy. If the trend continues then the Left in West Bengal is likely to lose between 20 and 22 seats out of a total 42 Lok Sabha seats this time.

In order to convert the rural upsurge against the Left, the Trinamul Congress chief, Mamata Banerjee, has lost no time to forge an alliance with the Congress to prevent major split in the anti-Left votes in West Bengal. After much dilly-dallying over seat sharing between the two parties, it is finally settled that the Trinamul and its allies together will contest in 28 seats and the Congress will field its candidates in 14 Lok Sabha constituencies all over the State. The BJP with its marginal presence (about three per cent votes recorded in recent by-polls) in the State has decided to go alone in the fray. BJP is contesting in 41seats out of 42 Lok Sabha constituencies in West Bengal. As a result, the Left now has to take a united anti-Left Opposition on the basis of 1:1 at least in 18 constituencies after 32 years of its uninterrupted regime in West Bengal.

Although Marxists put up a brave front claiming that they have won 2001 Assembly elections handsomely against the united opposition by the Trinamul-Congress combine and again in 2004 Lok Sabha polls against the BJP- Trinamul combine, they are now aware about a strong anti-Left wave prevailing in rural Bengal after the blood-bath in Singur and Nandigram. Moreover, even during the last parliamentary elections when there were no Nandigram-Singur episodes, the Left Front together had bagged 35 Lok Sabha seats just by securing a little over 50 per cent of the total votes polled. The CPM alone had bagged 26 seats despite the fact that the party had secured only 38.56 per cent of valid votes polled in 2004 parliamentary elections. No doubt, the split in anti-Left votes had always helped the Left Front winning the maximum seats both in the Assembly and in Lok Sabha elections in West Bengal so far.

Muslim anger

Soon after assuming power with overwhelming majority in 2006 Assembly elections, Bhattacharjee’s government has started grabbing fertile agricultural land for distributing it to dubious business promoters in the name of industrialisation. This led to widespread protests from farmers who were hard-core Left supporters during the 2006 assembly elections. Moreover, the Sachar Report on social, economic and educational status of the Muslims in West Bengal has exposed the Left that they are no longer the friends of the Muslims. The Muslims in West Bengal have voted en masse for the Left during the past 30 years without fail. Now the 27 per cent voters in the Muslim community in the State feel that they are betrayed and cheated by the Left. They are now desperately seeking to teach a lesson by voting against the Left. The poll reverses witnessed in three assembly by-polls are all Muslim dominated rural constituencies.

The Muslims apathy against the ruling Left has given a unique opportunity to Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress to build its support base in rural Bengal. Strangely, while the BJP and the Congress ignored the Muslim sentiment in West Bengal, it is Mamata Banerjee who has taken initiative to convert the Muslim’s anger into a political upsurge against the Left. She now plays the same Muslim communal card only to exploit the Muslim vote bank that the CPM once played to win elections in West Bengal

Strangely, the BJP was the first major political party to take the plight of Nandigram to a national platform. The BJP was the lone national party to send a parliamentary delegation, led by the leader of the Opposition, LK Advani and Rajya Sabha Member, Sushma Swaraj, to Nandigram after the carnage there. The delegation was well received by the Muslim villagers there. But the State BJP leaders have failed to take advantage of welcome visit of the central BJP leaders and make it into a firm support base.

Although Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress stole the limelight, she has never cared in the past to improve the social and economic status of the Muslims. Trinamul Congress is a predominantly urban-based political party and has never ventured in rural areas before the Singur-Nandigram farmers’uprise against the CPM. Mamata is a clever opportunist political leader who found the Muslims as well as Hindu farmers revolt against the State government’s destructive farm land acquisition policy a God-gifted opportunity to appear as a Messiah before the poor land losers and turned their anger and frustrations against the ruling Left. She quickly distanced herself with the BJP only to please the Muslims and forged an alliance with the Naxalites and other such ultra-Left forces to have a dent in rural sectors. These ultra-Left forces with their limited resources and influence are active in rural Bengal during the past 32 years of the Left rule. They joined under the Mamata’s flag only to gain political respectability and protection from the police repressions.

Left arrogance

The chief minister,Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s arrogance has added to the misery of the Left further. Soon after taking the reins of the government from Jyoti Basu, his successor Bhattacharjee had promised that he would change the work culture of the government and would make the administration accountable to the people. Bhattacharjee’s tall promises and his personal clean and intellectual image on the one side and utter disunity in the rank and files of the Opposition on the other have helped the Communists to sweep the Assembly elections in 2006 for the seventh consecutive term. The Left Front won 235 seats in a 294-member State Legislative Assembly. The electoral success and media hype have made Bhattacharjee so arrogant that he has declared that government will acquire farm land all over the State for industry without discussing this policy matter in the Cabinet. When the Opposition raised the question of legality in the action of the government, an angry Bhattacharjee retorted, “We are 235 in the Assembly. We don’t care what they are saying.” This arrogance generated from absolute power has simply corrupted the government administration. Moreover, this is for the first time in the long Left rule in Bengal, other Front partners have openly revolted against the CPM’s high-handedness in acquiring farm land for industrialists. No doubt, Bhattacharjee’s unreal industrialisation dream has brought doom for his government as well as his party within two years of assuming power for the seventh consecutive term. Political observers are now keeping their fingers crossed over the success of the Left in the Lok Sabha elections this time.