Test of Mamata’s Parivartan
May 20, 2011, the day a little less than five years from today is dubbed historic as it saw the firebrand Mamata Banerjee overthrowing the longest serving democratic government in Bengal, then ruled collectively by Left Front under the leadership of CPI(M).
The main issue with which Mamata Banerjee initiated her movement against the Left then was the Singur issue, where Tata’s dream Nano project factory was about to come up on the land taken from unwilling farmers by the then Left Front government.
Mamata then promised the people of Bengal and in particular the unwilling farmers of Singur, if her government came to power she would return the land to the farmers. This incident created a storm in the state and Mamata made it as one of her main weapons in her battle against the Left. People of Bengal too showed in her confidence, making her the first woman Chief Minister of the state. Five years after, when again the election is declared in Bengal, the Trinmool Congress has still kept the promise to resolve the issue.
This year after the elections are declared, Mamata Banerjee is referring to Singur as one of the main unfulfilled promises of her government. She said that the matter was dragged to the court after the government brought the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act with a view to returning land to the affected farmers. The case is still pending in the Supreme Court of India and she promised that no stone will remain unturned in her government’s resolve to find a solution to the problem as quickly as possible.
“The landowners of Singur will get back their property and dignity – that is our foremost promise,” she said. The TMC government will continue to pursue a policy against forceful land acquisition, she added. “Farmers of Singur will definitely get justice,” she said.
A week before the Election Commission of India announced a six-phase election in the state, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee didn’t waste any time in dubbing the move a “political conspiracy”. Careful not to directly criticise the EC, she promised to “fight the battle” of a six-phase poll held over seven days.
Moreover, immediately after the declaration of the election dates, the presence of central forces is felt in the state. Opposition party leaders explained that the presence of central forces would also prevent the ruling party from “influencing voters” and “managing booths”, allowing the electorate to vote “freely and without fear” though the government and the party in power seem not happy with it.
On the other hand, the seat-adjustment talks between the two prominent opposition parties in the state, the Left Front and the Congress is on, in many places joint campaign has already started by the supporters of Left Front and Congress. But the seat sharing hit a major roadblock with the Left Front coming out with its second list of 88 candidates that contained a number of seats, which the Congress has also decided to contest.
The state Congress chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said that his party could not be taken for granted and threatened to put up candidates on all seats. The 88 seats announced by LF chairman Biman Bose at a press meet contained 84 where its partners would be in the fray.
West Bengal poll dates
1st phase 18 constituencies
Polling days April 4, 11
2nd phase 56 constituencies
Polling day April 17
3rd phase 62 constituencies
Polling day April 21
4th phase 49 constituencies
Polling day April 25
5th phase 53 constituencies
Polling day April 30
6th phase 25 constituencies
Polling day May 5
The LF also left two seats each for its associates Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Janata Dal (United). The LF had on 7 March announced its first list of 116 candidates for the 294-member assembly, which goes to the poll in seven phases from 4 April to 5 May.
Left Front chairman Biman Bose, however, said there could be discussions on some of the seats, which were disputed. “Discussions may be needed for some of the seats. Then we may announce a small third list.” Bose, who gave the call for a people’s grand alliance, stressed on the need to prevent any division of anti-Trinamool votes.
But soon after Bose’s press meet, Chowdhury came out all guns blazing. “In deference to the people’s wishes, and taking a pragmatic view, we had shown all sincerity in arriving at an understanding after prolonged talks. We don’t know what are their compulsions.”
“We had prepared a list of constituencies after the discussions. But now if they feel they will contest more seats, no one should assume that the Congress will accept that.”
Maybe for the BJP, once surging forwards in West Bengal, this allows time to make one last ditch effort to sort out the incredible internal chaos that has prevailed in the past months.
So far, Trinamool Congress has announced the entire list of their candidates, the Left and the Congress are partially doing the same, but the BJP is still in its early planning stages. A series of internal feuds, culminating with former state president Rahul Sinha being replaced by RSS Pracharak Dilip Ghosh, has delayed their election campaign. Already, many in the party believe this delay has seen the party completely throwing away the gains that they had made in West Bengal during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
The 2016 polls are being seen as a litmus test for not only the ruling Trinamool Congress but also for the Opposition CPI(M) and the nascent BJP. Mamata Banerjee-led government’s first five years in office has been tumultuous, under the shadow of the multi-crore Saradha scam, recurring assault cases against women and bouts of communal violence in the state.
Still if we analyse deeply we can say, so far the Trinamool Congress is the most powerful political force in the state and Mamata Banerjee is the most popular political leader. It is seen as the behemoth and “democratic forces” are coalescing in a bid to beat it at the hustings.
Thirty-four years of Left rule left the Congress a party that is strong in only a few pockets of the state and the Left, unable to quickly absorb the shock of its 2011 defeat, is trying to fight and give Mamata a tough fight. For the BJP, the main challenge in these elections would be to hold on to its general election vote share of nearly 17 per cent. The party hasn’t been able to build on the momentum of its 2014 high.
By Joydeep Dasgupta