One significant aspect of the West Bengal municipal polls, the results for which were declared on Tuesday, is that it gives an indication of the mood of the electorate for the 2016 state assembly polls. The writing is pretty clear and bold on the wall: Mamata Banerjee is firmly in the saddle and a second term in office is all but certain.
The scale of the Trinamool Congress victory is overwhelming. At the same time, the different dimensions of the outcome make the CPM-BJP allegations of “state sponsored terror” hard to substantiate. The results have been a mixed bag of significant wins and defeats, despite the Trinamool Congress landslide. A rigged poll would have produced a different pattern of results.
The deputy mayor of the last TMC board at the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, Farzana Alam, has lost to the Left candidate at a central Kolkata seat, while the chairman of the last TMC board, Sachhidananda Bandopadhyaya, has lost to a BJP nominee at another seat.
Similarly, TMC heavyweight Paresh Paul has lost to the Congress in a North Kolkata ward.
But such defeats did not overshadow the overwhelming TMC victory. There is no denying either that the organisational strengths of the parties in the fray — and their leaderships’ ability to connect with voters — has been a major factor in the elections.
For instance, the Siliguri Municipal Corporation, the second most important civic body after the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, has been won by the CPM-led Left front in a tough contest. One reason is the leadership’s persistent drive to reach out to voters, whom it was able to convince that a better alternative to the TMC-Congress combine — mired in intense squabbling in the last board — was possible.
Again, in Murshidabad, where the West Bengal Congress president and MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury has built up a formidable organisational structure, the results were in favour of the Congress. The Trinamool Congress failed to make much of a dent despite focusing on it from the beginning.
The BJP has had disappointing results. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections it was number one in 26 municipal wards in Kolkata, and a close second in another 31. BJP hopes were pinned on these 57 wards. It had overtaken the Left Front in Kolkata’s urban core in an election obviously powered by the Narendra Modi wave. The KMC polls show the wave has subsided — the BJP has failed to touch double digits in Kolkata, and drawn a blank in the 91 municipalities. In Kolkata it has won 7 wards out of 144.
The results should trigger serious discussions within the BJP over what went wrong: the limitations of the state leadership, the allegations of corruption in the selection of candidates, the absence of mass agitations that reflected popular discontent, and the serious factionalism within the party in Bengal.
Many expected the Congress to be decimated. That did not happen. The Trinamool has indeed swallowed up whatever was left of the Congress in Kolkata and many districts. But the results show that the minuscule, residual Congress has held on in many North Bengal districts like Dinajpur, Malda, Murshidabad, and elsewhere. Even in Kolkata, its showing was more than it had expected with 5 wards in its pocket.
Finally, these municipal polls vindicate the Trinamool Congress’s gamble of going it alone in politics — at least in West Bengal. Mamata Banerjee had chosen to go by herself in the 2011 state assembly polls — and then in the panchayat polls of 2013 and the Lok Sabha polls of 2014, and now the municipal polls of 2015. 2016 should be no different.