Debating India

Opposition disarray in West Bengal

Thursday 26 May 2005, by DAM*Marcus

The recent civic polls show it will take a lot more to seriously challenge the Left Front.

THE THUMPING victory of the Left Front in Sunday’s civic polls in West Bengal reflects a consolidation of its strength in the State’s urban constituencies. This can only bolster its prospects in the Assembly elections due next year, given its supremacy in the rural areas.

It has not only won in more than 60 per cent of the wards where elections were held but also wrested control of eight additional boards. It has increased its tally to 49 of the 79 municipalities in the State went to the polls.

The results indicate a substantial erosion in the support base of the Trinamool Congress whose position as the principal Opposition party in the State is now in peril. They also suggest the need for a lot more from the Opposition than a mere cobbling together of a grand anti-Left alliance popularly referred to as mahajot if the Left Front is to be seriously challenged.

The Trinamool leadership may have chosen to look the other way as a section of its leaders went into seat adjustments with the Congress in the recent polls. However, it still considers anathema a formal tie-up with a Congress that enjoys the support of the Left at the Centre.

It was the question of a mahajot that precipitated a split within the Trinamool, leading to the formation of the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) whose litmus test as an electoral grouping will be the elections to the Kolkata Municipal Corporation on June 19. To suggest that the split did not have a bearing on the outcome of the municipal polls even though the UDA was not in the fray as an entity would be na?ve.

For the Congress, infighting has proved costly. Yet for two elections in a row - the earlier being the 2004 Lok Sabha polls - it has managed to emerge as the strongest Opposition party in the State. Its citadel in Malda district where the writ of veteran leader A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury - a strong proponent of the mahajot theory - runs has fallen to the Left Front in the civic polls. Factionalism within the local leadership has also resulted in the Left making significant inroads into Murshidabad district; Defence Minister and Pradesh Congress Committee president Pranab Mukherjee was elected from here in the last Lok Sabha polls.

Despite winning in only three municipalities, Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee insists her party has done well in areas where it contested on its own. The Congress, in its continuing attempt to woo Trinamool leaders with the purported view of preventing a split in the anti-Left vote in the coming elections, has blamed its reverses on the disunity in the Opposition ranks.

The Left Front leadership cites the civic poll results as evidence of the inadequacy of any such alliance forged with the singular purpose of contesting elections, dismissing such formations as "opportunistic and unprincipled."

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