Election Commission can take credit for having seen a largely peaceful poll

Now that the dust has settled on what was one of the most fiercely fought Assembly elections in the State, West Bengal awaits its political destiny with bated breath. May 13 seems to be an agonisingly long time away.

Last-minute reappraisals are being made in different political camps of feedback received from party workers at the grass roots on the possible outcome in their respective areas, even as leaders pore over the data filtering in. Given the closeness of the contests in several constituencies, the imponderables at times appear overwhelming.

The Election Commission has reasons to pat itself on the back for having seen a largely peaceful poll, drawn out over an unprecedented six phases and stretching over more than three weeks, through. There was even a special word of congratulations from the Chief Election Commissioner to the State's Chief Electoral Officer for the smooth conduct of a poll that had all the forebodings of being a troublesome exercise, given the political violence in the preceding months, not to mention the high stakes involved.

Focus of discourse

And then there have been the much-anticipated exit polls whose predictions now dominate discourse not just in political circles but also beyond. The responses are predictable, drawing cheers and sneers, depending on which side one is on.

With nearly all pollsters predicting a sweep for the Trinamool Congress-Congress alliance, a sense of smugness seems to have set in in the leadership of both the parties that now believe that the “winds of change” perceived as having started blowing across the State with the rural polls in May 2008 did finally develop into a “tsunami” as Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee has described it in her own inimitable style.

The Left Front leadership, particularly that of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), is, however, not overly worried, no matter how grim the exit polls assessments are.

CPI(M) State secretary Biman Bose has been quick to respond – not just describing them as “bogus” but also quite correctly pointing out the pollsters have often been proved wrong; at times by such high percentage points which might not only have caused them embarrassment but also raised questions on the methodologies applied. The last time the Trinamool Congress-Congress fought an Assembly poll together — in 2001 — the forecasts of most of the exit polls were way off the mark.

Talk of the “anti-incumbency” factor is not new in a State that has seen no change in government for nearly 34 years now, even though it may have gained currency over the past term. Nor can the high voter turnout in the election, where the average was not much more than that in the last Assembly polls, be construed as a definitive indicator, as has often been the case in other parts of the country.

“Winds of change”

The question that will be answered when the electronic voting machines are unlocked, come Friday, is whether the Left Front has, since the last of the successive electoral reversals it suffered over the past three years, been able to make enough of a turnaround in fortunes not just to successfully fend off the “winds of change,” but also whether or not the image of “resurgence” it has been projecting for itself has finally held good in the public mind.