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How the municipal poll results in Bengal are worrying for democracy

Out of the 148 wards which went to poll on Sunday, the two main opposition parties in the state – the CPM and the Congress – did not win a single ward.

Written by Esha Roy | Kolkata |
Updated: August 24, 2017 3:05:43 pm
Municipal polls in West Bengal, West Bengal municipal poll, Durgapur town municipal polls, Trinamool Congress news, Congress in West Bengal, opposition parties in west Bengal, India news, National news Out of the 148 wards which went to the polls on Sunday, the Trinamool secured a staggering victory, capturing 140 seats

In the 2012 municipal elections held in Durgapur town, out of 43 municipal wards, the Trinamool Congress won 29. In the 2016 assembly elections, two assembly seats in the region were won by the Opposition – one by the Congress and the other by the CPM — at one state, the opposition parties had been leading in 40 of the 43 municipal wards that fall in these two assembly seats. Just over a year later, in the recently concluded municipal elections, the Trinamool swept Durgapur, the largest municipal body in the state, winning all 43 seats.

Out of the 148 wards which went to the polls on Sunday (Durgapur in Burdwan district, Haldea in East Midnapore, Cooper’s Camp in Nadia, Panskura in East Midnapore, Dhupguri in Jalpaiguri, Buniadpur in South Dinajpur and Nalhati in Birbhum), the Trinamool secured a staggering victory, capturing 140 seats. Of the eight remaining wards, the BJP emerged in second place winning six wards in all – four in Dhupguri and one seat each in Buniadpur and South Dinajpur.

Out of the 148, the two main opposition parties in the state – the CPM and the Congress – did not win a single ward. One seat was won by a Left Front member, the Forward Bloc, and one seat was won by an independent candidate.

There are certain conclusions which seem obvious from the results of these municipal elections. That the Trinamool Congress has now unequivocally established itself as the undisputed and unrivaled ruling party in the state. That this victory sets the stage for the panchayat polls to take place next year – which it is safe to say, is likely to be swept once more by the ruling party. That the BJP, hardly a political presence in Bengal politics so far, has emerged over the past few years as a viable opposition party. That the electoral fight in Bengal politics is now bi-partisan – between the TMC and the BJP.

However, a closer look will show a much more alarming trend in these election results. The BJP has gained seats, but is still a fledgling party. With a lack of leadership in the state, the party does not yet pose any threat to the TMC. And the rise of the BJP is attributable to two main factors – the seeming decline of the Left and the Congress, and its push to polarize politics in Bengal, dividing vote banks along religious lines.

Over the past year,since the assembly elections a number of communal riots have occurred across the state – in Dhulagarh, Uluberia, Bashirhat – and in all these areas, Hindu organisations such as the RSS and VHP have emerged. The BJP’s political activity in the state is sporadic and temporary, not based on any long term vision of development as it pitches in other states, but trying to cash in on anger and religious sentiment. Political analysts say that the emergence of the BJP in Bengal, like the sentiments it seeks to exploit, is of a transient nature. The BJP may win a ward here and there, an odd assembly seat in a district but is still unlikely to emerge as a sustainable force in the state.

Who then is the opposition to the West Bengal government?

Leaders in the opposition camp, now seemingly annihilated in the electoral process, from the Congress as well as the CPM have made grave allegations against the TMC after each election. They have said that the elections conducted at the local level, carried out by the state Election Commission have not been free and fair. That even during the 34 year Left regime in Bengal, the non-Left parties always won enough seats to be able to form a healthy opposition. In this election, the TMC cornered 71 per cent of the vote share in Durgapur (a Congress stronghold) and 84 per cent of the vote share in Haldea (an erstwhile CPM stronghold). This is a huge jump from the 2016 assembly polls, where the TMC secured 45 per cent of the total votes cast.

Whatever be the reason, the complete annihilation of the CPM and the Congress in recent elections has thrown up a worrying situation – of an opposition-less ruling party and a government. This does not bode well for Bengal, and it definitely does not bode well for democracy.

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