In West Bengal, the Trinamool Congress has put in its > best performance ever . The party has not only retained its traditional stronghold in the south of the State, where it has been winning local elections for a decade, but has increased its tally in the northern parts too. Moreover, for the first time in a State-level election, the party independently polled nearly 45 per cent of the votes.
In the 2011 Assembly elections, the Trinamool bagged 38.93 per cent in an alliance with the Congress and in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, fighting independently, the party polled 39.77. The party was ahead in 214 Assembly segments in 2014 and bagged 184 in 2011.
The results indicate that only the Left Front’s share has dropped sharply, while both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party gained, besides the ruling party.
While the BJP’s share dropped from 17 per cent in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls to a little over 10 per cent, the party has gained in seats and percentage from the 2011 Assembly elections.
The Congress’s share, hovering around 10 per cent since the formation of the Trinamool two decades ago, has reached over 12 per cent. The grand old party has bagged 42 seats as in 2011. Precisely why the party chief in the State, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, said that the Trinamool was “winning from Left’s constituencies, rather than from the Congress-controlled seats; the Left’s loss is the Trinamool’s gain.”
While in 2011, the Left had a vote share of a little over 40 per cent, it came down to around 30 per cent in 2014. The fall has continued with the Left getting only about 26 per cent this time. Its seat share has come down from 62 in 2011 to 32 and thus it is likely to lose the status of Opposition party to the Congress.
The Trinamool, as in all other years since the Panchayat elections of 2008, has gained substantially in south Bengal, which has 218 of 294 seats. The Trinamool got 191 of these in 2014. Now it has bagged nearly the same number. Additionally, it improved its performance in four districts of north Bengal.
However, in the Muslim-majority districts of central Bengal — Malda, Murshidabad and Uttar Dinajpur — Trinamool’s performance remains dismal. In Malda, it failed to open its account, while in Murshidabad it got four of 22 seats, only a marginal improvement on its earlier performance. In Uttra Dinjapur as well, the party performed marginally better than in 2011 or 2014. But the Muslim voters indeed backed Trinamool in south Bengal, where they are in a minority.
‘Freebies worked’ Attributing the Trinamool’s success to its “populist” policies, poll observers said Ms. Banerjee’s subsidised foodgrain scheme, aided by the Central government, distribution of free cycles or conditional cash transfer to young women, had worked.
“Mamata Banerjee has imported two things into Bengal politics from other States: freebies and film actors. Both worked,” said Sanjib Mukherjee, a political scientist.
“However, I would add that this politics — which one may call populist — of freebies has a major advantage. People can benefit across party lines,” Professor Mukherjee said.
“Moreover, subsidising the poor by paying less dearness allowance to State government employees, increasing the commercial tax base and thus using the additional money to fund schemes for the underprivileged and reasonable investment in rural infrastructure has helped Ms. Banerjee to sweep the polls,” said Prof. Garga Chatterjee, a political observer.