The importance of finishing second


Local body elections rarely if ever command wider national attention. But in >West Bengal, the elections to civic bodies this time were of more than local interest, for a variety of reasons. While the Trinamool Congress, some of whose leaders are under investigation for their reported involvement in financial scams, was seeking a popular vote of confidence, the Bharatiya Janata Party was hoping to supplant the Left parties as the principal opposition in the State. In the event, the BJP could not wrest control of a single civic body, while the Trinamool, winning 71 of the 92 civic bodies, improved on its 2010 performance. The Trinamool’s good performance was less of a surprise than the BJP’s poor showing. After the defeat of the Left Front government, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) had yielded ground to both the Trinamool Congress and the BJP, raising visions of a polarisation of votes that could have marginalised both the Left Front and the Congress. But the BJP evidently could not live up to its initial promise. Whether or not local factors came into play and damaged its prospects is not clear, but the BJP can take little comfort in its failure to win a single civic body outright. For the Trinamool Congress, a bigger win than in 2010 was as important as winning itself. By bettering its performance, the party can now with some justification claim that a majority of the people believe that political motives were at the heart of the cases foisted on its leaders.

Despite finishing second, the Left Front could have found little cheer in the results. Yet, in the context of its rapid decline from a party that ruled West Bengal continuously for 34 years to an organisation fighting hard to retain even its traditional support base, the CPI(M) could have done far worse than finishing a poor second. In a State where the negative vote is an important component of electoral politics, the party could ill-afford to lose its status as the principal opposition to the Trinamool. Just as a good chunk of the traditional Trinamool voters are oriented against the Left parties, the Left Front too can hope to gain from any disenchantment with the Trinamool so long as it occupies the Opposition space. Any failure to retain the second spot would have meant further erosion in the base of the Left, strengthening the BJP. This is no turnaround in the fortunes of the Left parties, but the very fact that the BJP could not make significant gains is some consolation for the war-weary Left Front. The battle was for the second place, and the BJP has lost it.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2020 6:15:29 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/west-bengal-civic-body-elections-the-importance-of-finishing-second/article7155060.ece

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