Even as West Bengal goes to the polls tomorrow in its first vote of transition in 35 years,Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee faces her biggest challenge in the six North Bengal districts Cooch Behar,Jalpaiguri,Darjeeling,North Dinajpur,South Dinajpur and Malda where 54 Assembly seats are up for grabs in the first phase. Considering her limited influence here,Mamata has launched one of her most aggressive poll experiments in an attempt to change the political status quo.
In an election where the dominant theme is the defeat of the Left Front government,this is one region where the Lefts erosion is not as disastrous as in South Bengal. The BJP has deep pockets of influence in some areas,while dissident Congress and Trinamool leaders are playing spoilsport in others. All these threaten to expose the serious limitations of the Trinamools geographical spread and influence.
In the 2006 Assembly polls,the Trinamool won only one seat from the 54 in the six districts. In the 2009 parliamentary elections,while the Trinamool won 19 seats,none of them were from any of these districts.
This explains why Mamata was so candid during her whistlestop tour of the region. I have given you so much,but you have not given me back anything. Bless me once,I promise to turn North Bengal into Switzerland. I promise you wont have to leave your home for jobs in other states, she said.
Bengal polls begin today,Mamata faces trouble in north dists
She was being honest. She has been more than generous,giving new trains,stations and railway projects to a region which has been neglected for decades. It has given North Bengal new connectivity. Yet,the winds of change seem to have stopped short of Malda. Worse still,an analysis of the ground realities does not indicate much of a change compared to the 2006 Assembly or 2009 Lok Sabha polls.
Some factors which may spell trouble for Mamata in the region:
While tying up with the NCP with an eye on the ethnic votes in Cooch Behar,Mamata changed her partys candidate for the Dinhata seat. She also expelled her only MLA from the region,Ashok Mondal,who hails from the district for his anti-party stand. Mondal has teamed up with Fazle Haque,a dissident Congress candidate,giving the edge to the Left Front candidate.
Mamata pushed for a larger share of seats than she deserved,putting up as many as 27 candidates in the six districts half of the total. Some of these constituencies have been traditional Congress territory. Out of the 12 Congress leaders suspended by the high command for having violated the partys whip,seven belong to these six districts and may spoil the game for her. The Left may be the likely beneficiary in case of a split in Opposition votes.
These districts did not experience Mamatas land movement. Besides,while she has zoomed in mostly on South Bengal,the problems of the tea industry workers escaped attention. Tea garden managements have had a free run in this belt,with unilateral wage cuts,stoppage of medical and ration facilities. No mainstream parties have taken up their cause seriously. Trade unions of the Left as well as the Congress have often been accused of conspiring with the management. The Trinamool has not made any inroads here.
The Gorkha Janamukti Morchas unilateral announcement about its support for the Congress-Trinamool combine in several seats in the Terai and Dooars region has put Mamata on a sticky wicket. The development is being viewed with suspicion by tribals and Bengali voters who are vehemently opposed to Gorkhaland and inclusion of any Terai-Dooars area in the hill council. Mamata was quick to spurn the offer.
To upset all such odds,Mamata is banking on dissident Left leaders who have defected to the Trinamool in several places. She has álso been partly successful in branding the dissident players who are still in the field as funded by the CPM.