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Updated: June 3, 2010 00:01 IST

In victory, a bitter message for Mamata Banerjee

Smita Gupta
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CELEBRATION TIME: Trinamool Congress supporters celebrate the party’s victory at the house of TC chief Mamata Banerjee at Kalighat, Kolkata, on Wednesday. Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury
CELEBRATION TIME: Trinamool Congress supporters celebrate the party’s victory at the house of TC chief Mamata Banerjee at Kalighat, Kolkata, on Wednesday. Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury

Mamata cannot afford to go it alone in Assembly polls, if she is serious about a smooth entry into Writers' Building.

The results of the West Bengal civic elections, in which the Trinamool Congress (TC) surged ahead of the ruling Left Front and left the Congress a poor third, came as no surprise. But even as TC workers celebrated on the streets of Kolkata and flung abir (colour) at one another, there was a rather unpalatable message for Railway Minister and party chief Mamata Banerjee, hidden in the fine print: the TC has failed to touch the halfway mark, winning only 27 of the 81 municipal corporations – including the prestigious Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC), which it swept. This is even though the Left Front secured only 18 corporations, down from the 54 it held in 2005, and the Congress failed to reach the double digit-mark, plateauing at seven, down from 16 last time. How has this happened? This is because no party has managed a majority in at least 25 civic bodies. And it is this detail that Ms. Banerjee will have to consider carefully. For, if she is working to get a clear verdict in next year's Assembly elections, the compulsions of West Bengal politics will force her to make peace with the Congress and forge an alliance with it. She cannot afford to go it alone, as she did in these local polls, if she is serious about a smooth entry into the Writers' Building.

For the Congress, too, the results held a worrying portent: the ground has not just shifted from under the feet of the Left, it has slipped away also from the Congress. It is clear that in many places, such as in the KMC itself, its vote base has shifted to the TC. In the run-up to the polls, the TC had agreed to give the Congress 25 wards in the 141-ward KMC. But the Congress turned down the offer and the alliance broke. Finally, it was able to win just 10 wards against the 15 it held. In sharp contrast, the TC, which held 42 wards, has more than doubled its strength, winning 95.

It was the Congress, therefore, which made the first overtures; on Wednesday, even as the first results were just trickling in, Union Finance Minister and Pradesh Congress chief Pranab Mukherjee told journalists in New Delhi that he would “like to congratulate Mamata Banerjee on her excellent performance in Kolkata and all over Bengal” and that he accepted the verdict of the people “with all humility.”

Interestingly, it has been less than a week since Ms. Banerjee and Mr. Mukherjee engaged in a public spat. On May 26, the TC leader accused the Congress of being in cahoots with the CPI (M). A day later, Mr. Mukherjee threw down the gauntlet, saying the civic polls would decide whether the TC could win on its own or whether it needed Congress support to defeat the CPI (M).

Trinamool conciliatory

On Wednesday, the acrimony vanished. And Ms. Banerjee, in her hour of triumph, was conciliatory. “I have faith in the Congress leadership,” she said in Kolkata, adding, “I want to keep up relations with the UPA government.” Asked whether the TC and the Congress would contest the Assembly elections together, she said: “I am always open for an alliance. I am in favour of a mahajot [grand alliance].”

But clearly before that mahajot becomes possible, the TC and the Congress need to work together in the 25 municipal corporations, which have returned fractured verdicts. They cannot afford to quarrel as they did last October over mayorship of Siliguri: in the end, the CPI (M) stepped in and backed a Congress Mayor. Sources in Kolkata indicated that the TC and the Congress decided that with just one year left for the Assembly elections, it would be foolish to fight again. The Congress leadership has sent a stern warning down the line to those opposed to the TC, and told them to cooperate with the TC so that they can take dual control of the 25 corporations.

Grim news for Left

Ms. Banerjee is clearly on a high and has asked that the Assembly elections be advanced, a demand that has been turned down by the Left Front leaders. For now, the news continues to be grim for the ruling Left Front, with Wednesday's results confirming the trend that first became visible after the panchayat elections in 2008 and gained strength after the Lok Sabha polls last year.

After the panchayat elections in 2008, the Left parties lost South 24 Parganas and Purba Midnapur districts and found themselves being challenged in North 24 Parganas, Howrah and Nadia districts. So though those results did not look that bad as they still controlled 13 of 17 zilla panchayats, having lost just two, the Left parties fared far worse in the two lower tiers — in panchayat samitis and gram panchayats. But the real message that emerged from those polls was that the Left citadel could be breached. The Congress and the TC fought the Lok Sabha polls together in 2009 and the results were astounding: the Left Front slipped from 35 to 15, an all-time low in its unbroken 32 years of rule, while the TC clawed its way up from 1 to 19 and the Congress won 6.

So, while the Left Parties wait for a miracle in West Bengal, the Congress will have to continue to deal with Ms. Banerjee, who will continue to demand her pound of flesh.

Whatever else may be said now, it is a clear case of rejection of the LF by the people of WB. What the left front leaders and their 'chela's are saying today is what they were taught by their own 'party' as they could read the writing on the wall much earlier. The fact is that the LF does not want to stay in power in WB any more. They want to go now. Their body language says so. They know they have been rejected and now they are trying not to accept it openly in public. Mamata's job is becoming easier day after day. It is just a matter of time now that she will enter Writer's Buildings in Kolkata. But the most important thing is what Cong will do now. It is their 'back door' help that kept aloft the LF flag all through here as the Cong leaders maintained a nice-friendly-collateral relation with the LF here without letting off their own identity. LF never denied Cong as a party in WB till date. But now with TMC ensuing into power, the scenario is altogether changed and alarming for Cong whose identity in the state is at stake today. It is a question of Cong's identity crisis in WB now. Everybody inclusive Mamata Banerjee understands it very well that without mass alliance in the state it is not possible to regain power in WB. But it is also important to watch closely what the WB Cong leaders will ultimately do. They are capable of doing anything.

from:  Jaydip Ghosh. Kolkata
Posted on: Jun 6, 2010 at 21:40 IST

The possibility that somehow Mamata and the Congress will fight each other and let the Left alliance survive in the next general election seems to be a pipedream.

from:  Vismaya George
Posted on: Jun 4, 2010 at 02:36 IST

Dear Sir,

Where is the good grace with which we accept news that is unpalatable to us? The verdict is a clear rejection of the Left Front but holds no hopes for the INC. Hers is a purely regional party that has fought two proud national parties and defeated them separately. Why should we expect Mamata to be 'humble' and go for an alliance? Between now and the Assembly elections, things would probably go her way. Let us wait and see.

from:  Ramesh Parthasarathy
Posted on: Jun 3, 2010 at 06:52 IST

Who really cares about civic polls ?? Whats the big fuss over some minor positions that nobody cares about even in Bengal?

from:  Prithvi
Posted on: Jun 3, 2010 at 00:53 IST
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