It’s been a massive landslide victory for the Trinamool Congress and a crushing defeat for the Left parties in the state of West Bengal.
Riding on the informal “people’s alliance’’ between the Left and the Congress – while the Congress has not only managed to retain its seats from 2011 but marginally improve its performance from its current 42 incumbent MLAs to capturing a total of 45 seats, it’s the CPI(M) which has suffered a major setback in this election.
The “jote”, as the alliance was popularly called, worked on a seat sharing model by which the Congress and CPI(M) divided seats among them in a manner by which the Congress had not fielded candidates in assembly constituencies where the CPI(M) fielded a candidate and vice versa. The workers of both parties had ostensibly worked together for the joint candidate.
But hours after the results started pouring in, fault lines between the two partners have already started appearing with some CPI(M) leaders alleging that while the disciplined CPI(M) workers had ensured that the Congress candidates did well, this effort was not completely reciprocated by the Congress. Considered an ally so far, the Congress has now unexpectedly emerged as the second largest political party in West Bengal.
“We are still analyzing the results and getting information from the districts so it is very difficult to tell what has happened,’’said CPI(M) MP Mohammad Salim who was also one of the main faces of the Left’s campaign in this election.
But as leaders remained huddled inside Muzaffar Bhavan in Alimuddin street, several theories have already started doing the rounds. The BJP, which had made inroads due to a Modi wave in 2014, actually lost ground in this election in terms of vote percentage. From 16.84 per cent, its vote share has gone down considerably by nearly seven per cent and rests at 10.20 per cent in 2016. This seven per cent dip had taken place over the past year when the BJP had lost ground due to intense infighting. The Left’s target was to trap this vote share in order to defeat Mamata.
In the 2011 elections the TMC had 39 per cent vote share, as did the combined tallies of the Congress and the Left. The arithmetic then was clear. But the BJP’s dropping voting percentage did not come to the Left but instead was captured by the Trinamool. “So the Trinamool’s vote share has gone up by this margin, slightly more maybe. So the problem wasn’t that we stagnated and were unable to increase the vote share,’’ said a CPI(M) leader.
The Congress vote bank, which is far more geographically concentrated,such as in Malda and Murshidabad, remained intact. While Surjya Kanta Mishra has announced that the jote will continue and be strengthened to look at the 2019 elections, a number of factors will now be scrutinized – such as the seat sharing module itself (Congress contested 90 seats while the Left contested 204). In Nandigram, for instance, which the TMC retained with a resounding majority, a Left candidate was fielded in a constituency vehemently opposed to the Left after the “red Terror’’ of 2007-8. Insiders feel that the mistake could have been averted by fielding a Congress candidate.
In South 24 Paraganas the Left has won barely two seats out of 31, in North 24 Paraganas out of 23 seats the Congress has won three and the Left five, in Nadia the Congress has won 4 whereas the CPI(M) has won none. In Birbhum the opposition has been wiped out with the Congress and CPI(M) having won one seat each as is the case with Purulia where the Congress has won two seats and the CPI(M).
“There are a number of issues that need to be considered. There should have been a positive campaign instead of a negative campaign against Mamata. We feel that this created a sympathy wave toward her –as if she was being attacked on all fronts. At that time with obvious issues like corruption, it seemed like an acceptable campaigm. The CM and deputy CM candidates should have been announced before hand. These may have been tactical errors,’’ says a Congress leader.
“The jote will continue – it will be strengthened. But we need to look at different areas in the state now. The scheduled castes, the tribal areas – these areas need to be carefully scrutinized and a plan formulated accordingly,’’ said senior CPI(M) leader Gautam Deb.
The overwhelming mandate which has brought Mamata back however is not just because of a tactical discrepancy. Its points at an ever increasing disconnect between the Left and the people of Bengal. “People have not forgotten the twenty years of misrule before the five years of worse misrule by Mamata. While they may give her another chance, it may just be too soon to give the Left the same privilege,’’ says the Congress leader.