A year after its comprehensive defeat in the Lok Sabha election in West Bengal, the Left Front led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has clearly failed to recover lost ground in the polls to 81 urban local bodies in the State. Although the Left parties managed to arrest the slide in certain parts of the State, and made small gains in relation to the Lok Sabha election, this is of little consolation with the Assembly election only a year away. The principal opposition, the Trinamool Congress, which went for an alliance with the Congress in the 2009 general election to prevail over the Left Front, beat back the ruling front on its own this time. It notched up impressive wins in the key Kolkata Municipal Corporation and neighbouring Bidhannagar (Salt Lake) Municipality and emerged the most successful party in the districts. It hopes to set up the board in at least 50 civic bodies across the State largely on its own and with the Congress as partner in a few. The Left parties won 18 bodies and the Congress seven. Only about 17 per cent of the total electorate of West Bengal was covered in these municipal elections, but the outcome, coming after the losses in the panchayat elections in 2008 and the Lok Sabha election in 2009, raises the question whether the end of the Left Front's long tenure in government is near. After a record seven successive wins in the Assembly election, beginning 1977, the CPI (M) and the other Left parties might have to settle for a spell in the opposition. Even if corrective action is taken by the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government, it is difficult to envisage a change in the popular mood in West Bengal.
For the Trinamool, the municipal polls also served as an opportunity to set the alliance terms with the Congress for the Assembly election. The party's chief Mamata Banerjee might be calculating that her prospective ally has been sufficiently softened up by the results to be a pushover during the seat-sharing negotiations. However, despite the latest confirmation of the erosion of popular support for the Left Front, going it alone is not a viable option for the Trinamool. So, after accusing the Congress of being in league with the CPI (M) in the run-up to the municipal elections, Ms Banerjee has opened a line to the Congress, expressing faith in its top leadership and hoping to maintain relations with the United Progressive Alliance government. However, the volatile Ms Banerjee can always make things difficult for herself, just as she does for her allies. Political opportunism of the kind that saw her propose a Mahajot or grand alliance with both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party has been her strongest card and her greatest weakness. Now that she is within sniffing distance of the Writers' Building, Ms Banerjee seems to be in the process of realising that, in the immediate context, she needs the Congress as much as the Congress needs her.