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Another test for West Bengal’s Opposition

Thursday 16 June 2005, by DAM*Marcus

West Bengal’s Opposition parties have another chance to challenge the Left Front before next year’s Assembly election.

THE POPULAR analogy is that the June 19 elections to the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) is the "semi-final" of a tournament whose final, the West Bengal Assembly election, will be held "early next year" [as stated recently by the Chief Election Commissioner, B.B. Tandon.] The "quarter-final," last month’s civic polls, was won by the Left Front.

It is not just about who will triumph in the KMC’s 141 wards. The elections are also being perceived as a sort of a local referendum on the performance of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s four-year-old Government.

Civic issues will be relevant as they always are in such a poll. But how successful have the Chief Minister’s policies of "reforms" to turn around the local economy been? And what about his move to refurbish Kolkata’s image as a destination for entrepreneurs? Has his "do-it-now" directive to officialdom had the desired effect? These are questions that are expected to play an important role in determining the voters’ choice.

The preferences of the electorate in the districts were apparent in the results of the 79 municipalities that went to the polls last month. Now, it will be the turn of the voters of Kolkata and adjoining Salt Lake, closer to the seats of power and known for its unpredictable political predilections that have often confounded pundits and been at odds with voting patterns in the rest of the State, to be in the spotlight.

Also at stake is the future of the non-Left Opposition. At its head is the Congress-led eight-party United Democratic Alliance (UDA). It was set up after Trinamool Congress stalwart and Kolkata Mayor, Subrata Mukherjee left his party to enter into an electoral understanding with the Congress.

State Congress president and Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee believes the UDA "will extend to the coming Assembly elections and even after." He says it signals the emergence of a new anti-Left political grouping in the State that is here to stay but admits that "it takes more than one person to dance the tango." However, Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee refused to change her stance vis-?-vis her relations with the Bharatiya Janata Party and thus made herself unavailable for any "grand alliance" of non-Left parties.

Whether the fast declining fortunes of the Trinamool-BJP combine in the State be reversed this time around? The answer to this question could well determine the future of the Trinamool, still the second largest party in the State Assembly.

The only blotch in the Left Front’s recent electoral record is having lost narrowly to the Opposition in the 2000 election to the KMC.

The gusto with which its leaders have been campaigning over the past few weeks reflects a determined bid to regain control over the city’s civic board. A triumph here would be one confident step forward toward the all-important "final".

See online : The Hindu

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