The multi-crore Saradha scam continued to haunt the ruling Trinamool Congress in West Bengal during 2015 but it had little impact on the party’s performance in municipal and panchayat elections and also bypolls as it registered emphatic wins.
TMC’s arch rival CPI-M tried hard to regain some lost ground although the Marxists admitted that they still have some “deficiencies” in terms of their strength.
The year began with CBI’s action against several TMC leaders, which the party termed as “vendetta politics” by the Narendra Modi government.
CBI arrested TMC leader and former transport minister Madan Mitra and also questioned former party general secretary Mukul Roy after which Mr. Roy, once a trusted lieutenant of party supremo Mamata Banerjee, distanced himself from TMC.
For BJP, which had garnered nearly 18 per cent votes in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the year did not bring much hope as it failed to put up a good show in successive elections to municipalities and panchayats.
According to a senior state BJP leader, the notion that the central party leadership is going soft on Saradha scam and has entered into a deal with TMC in return of its support in Rajya Sabha, where BJP is in a minority, has further eroded the party’s credibility.
Ahead of the Assembly polls, BJP appointed Dilip Ghosh, an old RSS hand as the new state president replacing incumbent Rahul Sinha.
Left and Congress charged the Modi government with “having a deal with TMC” for its support in passing bills in the Upper House in return of CBI going slow on the Saradha scam.
They argued that TMC did not raise its voice on issues such as Vyapam scam and Lalitgate when the Opposition protested against it.
Allegations and counter-allegations apart, TMC cruised along to impressive victories.
This prompted TMC Secretary General Partha Chatterjee to say, “The people of Bengal are with us. CPI(M), Congress and BJP are together in their fight. But the election results have shown that they have been rejected by the masses.”
However, the year also saw certain cracks in TMC as the party’s once powerful General Secretary Mukul Roy’s wings were clipped and Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek virtually took over as number two of the party. Mr. Roy who was under CBI scanner, was stripped of the position of TMC all India general secretary as well as from the post of party’s leader in the Rajya Sabha.
However, there were signs of his mending fences with the party as he met Ms. Mamata in Parliament and was invited to a dinner meeting.
Political observers say that with Assembly poll only a few months away, TMC leadership’s strategy is to bring back the disgruntled party men in its fold.
The CPI-M, which slipped into a state of disarray after repeated electoral setbacks since the 2011 Assembly election in the state, has been trying to recapture some lost ground in the state which it had ruled for over three decades.
In an attempt to make its presence felt, it organised some aggressive political programmes and continued rectification drive.
The baton of the state party unit was passed on from septuagenarian Biman Bose to a relatively younger Surya Kanta Mishra.
Notwithstanding its effort to stage a comeback, the Marxist party still have some deficiencies in terms of its strength which was admitted by former Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.
“It is true that we are conducting rallies, meetings in various districts. But still there are some deficiencies in terms of strength,” Mr. Bhattacharjee recently said.
The Marxists have undertaken a move to infuse new blood in the organisation replacing old faces to rejuvenate the party.
More than 70 per cent chiefs of the party’s various units from district to local committee level were replaced in the organisational conferences held in the past few months. The party this time has changed secretaries in nine districts including Kolkata.
Caught between TMC and CPI-M, Congress leadership was in two minds whether to contest the ensuing Assembly poll alone or to forge an alliance.
The state Congress leadership is clearly divided on this issue with a section wanting to go with CPI-M while another group favoured tie-up with TMC with which it had contested the 2011 elections.