India: Poll in West Bengal: Mamata’s TMC likely to win!
-Dr. Abdul Ruff
Elections as democratic tool
Elections are a must and held in order to strengthen democratic fabric of a given nation and conversely without elections, like in Syria, the rulers do not take responsibility for their wrong doings and people do not have any credible instrument of controlling the rulers and the ruling elite, although, true, polls, regular or otherwise, do not themselves any guarantee as a check and balance equipment to force the elected class to serve the populations with commitment.. .
India, fortunately, is among nations that hold elections regularly and put in place a new dispensation when an incumbent regime completes the term as per the constitutional requirements. However, real benefits of a regular process of polls have not reached the real beneficiaries, ie, the people, as the government and ruling-opposition classes promote not the common people but the corporate and rich sections of Indian macro society because they provide the parties and leaders with sumptuous funds on a regular basis. In fact, in modern times many corporate lords and rich traders themselves get elected or nominated to parliament and state assembly by generously bribing huge sums to the “concerned”.
Even with regular elections, India is among the top corrupt nations on earth as the system has escape routes for the corrupt leaders and criminals at high levels.
Regional polls in India
Five Indian states are slated for facing the people’s axe in the form of regional polls. Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Puducherry (Pondicherry), Assam and West Bengal are going to poll on different dates to elect new assemblies that would serve the people as their elected representatives. These elections will be held between April 4 and May 16 with counting of votes on May 19. A total of 824 Assembly constituencies will be covered with the participation of over 16.98 crore registered voters over a month while the results for all will be announced on May 19.
All the five states going to poll now are non-BJP-ruled states with regional parties ruling incumbent in three of them: Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry and West Bengal. Two states, Assam and Kerala, have the Congress alliance in power. The elections are also viewed as a test for the BJP to make a mark in the unfamiliar territories after the recent drubbing in Bihar.
For first time, the ECI has approved a special symbol for ‘None of The Above’ or NOTA option designed by the National Institute of Design, which is being incorporated in the Electronic Voting Machines.
Elections in West Bengal that has 294 seats will be held in six phases, on April 4 and 11, 17, 21, 25, 30 and May 5. The two-stage first phase in West Bengal covers Left-Wing Extremism-affected areas.
West Bengal witnesses the inclusion of new voters in the border regions of the northern part who have become Indian citizens following the exchange of enclaves with Bangladesh. India got 51 enclaves from Bangladesh on July 31, last year in exchange of 111 enclaves.
Polling for the first phase kickstarts on April 4 and will continue till April 11. The subsequent phases are on April 17, 21, 25 and 30, with the last phase to be held on May 5. The last phase of West Bengal elections has been kept for the Cooch Behar district where 16,000 people have become Indian citizens after the exchange of enclaves with Bangladesh and are eligible to vote.
The Election Commission has greatly heightened security in West Bengal, where allegations of vote loot have been rampant. Overall, Mamata starts as the favourite but the alliance is breathing down her neck. It might well turn out to be a photo-finish.
According to the latest opinion polls for West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC) is going to retain power in the state despite the Left making a significant gain in terms vote share from the last assembly election in 2011. However, Congress’s alliance with the Left is not helping the party much as its vote share seems to have dipped since 2011. The TMC is projected to get 40 per cent of the popular votes while the Left, led by the CPM, will get 31 per cent. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which campaigned aggressively in the state to make a dent, is expected to get a vote share of 11 per cent and possibly a couple of seats.
From a seemingly mundane election that had Mamata Banerjee firmly in pole position, the West Bengal Assembly Election has taken a dramatic turn. The communist and the Congress party have buried their hatchet and came together for a fragile with the aim of ousting the Mamata government. The Narada sting scandal, which hit the entire top echelon of TMC just before the elections, has further taken the wind out of Mamata’s sail.
All surveys so far have predicted that TMC is slated to win the elections. But the gap in vote share between the ruling party and Cong-CPI (M) alliance is extremely thin. If the alliance can properly work on ground and if there is an effective transference of vote (Left voters supporting Congress and vice-versa), an upset cannot be completely ruled out. In the Lok Sabha elections, TMC got 39% votes, Congress 9% and CPI (M) got 30%. But the fact that CPI (M) and Congress fought separately led to a landslide for TMC. That scenario may change completely this time. The BJP got 17% of the votes in the 2014 general elections and there was a possibility of the saffron party emerging as a potent alternative in the state. But with alliances shaping up, BJP has been effectively squeezed out. Factionalism within the party and the arrival of new state chief just months before the elections haven’t really helped their cause. It is likely that BJP will remain a footnote in this election.
The Congress has essentially shrunk to a party with influence in just three districts of West Bengal. With the Left looking for a comeback, Congress will try to get some of its mojo back in South Bengal, where its entire vote share has been usurped by the TMC. It has effectively rolled a dice by pitting firebrand leader Deepa Dasmunshi against Mamata Banerjee. Deepa may lose but the goal is to bring that momentum to other winnable seats where Congress has a fighting chance.
The Left which ruled the state for several terms without doing anything for the poor an d common people, before Mamata Banerjee’s TMC replaced it, will be fighting in 209 seats in total. It has looked to inject new blood by fielding fresh faces in many constituencies. The effort is to project to voters that the Left has learnt from its mistakes and that they have a new batch of leaders eager to rebuild the party. The charge will be lead by Surja Kanta Mishra. Some of the prominent leaders also contesting are Ashok Bhattacharya, Manash Mukherjee, Sujan Mukherjee, among others.
The West Bengal government looks to highlight its achievements, especially in rural empowerment. Some of the major calling cards of the Mamata government have been the establishment of relative peace and tranquility in the Jangalmahal and hilly areas of the state. The once volatile Gorkhaland movement has now significantly subsided and the Maoist stranglehold in the tribal belt has been loosened. Schemes like Kanyashree (for women empowerment) have had some positive impact. The GDP growth rate of the state is also impressive, surpassing the national average.
The recent collapse of an under-construction bridge in Girish Park area of North Kolkata last week , which resulted in the death of 26 people at the time of writing, became a major national event with the army called in for rescue operations. CPM-Congress-BJP attacks the Mamata government for the lapse and asks people not to vote for the ruling TMC. Though the construction of the bridge started during the Left era, questions are still being asked about why the Mamata government on didn’t take cognizance earlier. The Congress and BJP have hit out at the state government. The events have set up an intriguing clash in the state election which will pan out over the next one and half months.
In 2006, when the Left Front under the leadership of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee won a decisive mandate, many believed that Left was destined to be in power for several years/terms. But in politics, 5 years can be an eternity and a series of movements, like in Singur and Nandigram, where the communist parties promoted the corporate lords and against poor led to the erosion of the Left’s impenetrable rural vote bank. Mamata Banerjee virtually became the face of the anti-Left movement in the state. After an admirable performance in the 2009 Lok Sabha election, the edifice of the Left rule looked particularly brittle and Mamata gave it a telling blow by stitching up an alliance with the Congress and building up an organisation, which could match the famous (or infamous) Left cadre force.
In the 2011 state assembly election, Mamata finally broke the Left juggernaut after 34 years, with the TMC-Congress alliance winning a 3/4th mandate. Congress though soon broke away from TMC. In all the subsequent elections, TMC has virtually swept the field. It nearly obliterated the Left in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Now, when it looked like game-set-match for TMC, the Congress-Left alliance has suddenly come up as a big spanner in the works of Didi’s well-set plan.
CM Mamata’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) party is fighting in all 294 seats. Mamata has mainly kept the same batch of people who contested the last elections. To beat any anti-incumbency, she is campaigning from place to place, stating that she is the de-facto candidate in all seats and that people should look at the positive work done by her government. TMC is expected to perform impressively in South Bengal. Some of the prominent leaders fighting are Subrata Mukherjee, Bobby Hakim, Partha Chatterjee and Shovan Chatterjee, among others.
On the downside, due to Mamata Banerjee’s rigid land acquisition policies, industry hasn’t really gotten any filip. It has been a difficult phase for the state and even Finance Minister Amit Mitra, who was once part of the corporate echelon, hasn’t managed to do a course correction. The opposition is always eager to point out this lacuna, alongside their allegations of a reign of terror unleashed by the Mamata Banerjee where the police act as a silent or, in some cases, a willing accomplice. The Saradha scam, in which the names of several top TMC leaders surfaced, was also touted to be a big electoral issue. But sadly for the Opposition, it has had very little impact so far.
Sharpening her attack against the Congress at the time when party’s Vice President Rahul Gandhi was electioneering in West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee likened Congress to a “creeper” trying to survive banking on others. “Not surprisingly, the Congress is now breaking into pieces because of its wrong policy and for having no ideology,” Banerjee said addressing an election rally here in Bankura district. Reiterating her attack against the CPI (M)-Congress alliance, Banerjee said both the parties are devoid of ideology. “Both CPI (M) and Congress have no ideology. Nature of the CPI (M) will never change. Main agenda of the alliance is to spread canard and slander against the Trinamool Congress,” Banerjee said. Without naming the Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi, who is now electioneering in the state in support of the CPI (M)-Congress alliance, the TMC supremo said, “Some leaders from Delhi suddenly surface here during any election, make unrestrained statements and disappear all of a sudden. “Don’t believe them. They don’t love this state. They have deprived West Bengal always,” she said. Speaking about the CPI (M), she said that the erstwhile Left Front government did nothing in 34 years and compared to their activities, performance of her government deserved wide appreciation. Listing a series of development works in the state by her government during last five years, Banerjee said, “Our government is a government of common people and thus we will never do anything which could become a burden on people.” Banerjee urged people to reject the CPI (M)-Congress alliance and re-elect her party to form a government which would serve their purpose.
However, the Opposition is hopeful that the Narada sting video will puncture a hole in Mamata’s (Didi’s) credibility. TMC, for its part, has rejected the sting where several of its leaders were seen taking bribes. Whether this tactic of brazen denial will prove costly, we’ll only know on May 19.
One thing is clear to any onlooker: Mamata Banerjee‘s TMC does not suffer any anti-incumbency issue and Bengalis, having lost trust in Congress and communists, still look upon her as their only savior.
Both Congress and communist think if they improve their individual vote shares of the parliament elections and put them together, they could defeat the TMC. The arithmetic arrived at by Congress and communist party alliance does not seem perfect because people can also change their strategy in favor of Mamata party because they do not have any reason to trust both while their alliance itself may not enthuse them.
It is quite likely after the poll outcomes, the position of both Congress and CPM would be weaker while BJP would know it has no place in the state.