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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

In Bengal’s lone CPM-led civic body, lessons in practical politics

In the civic body elections held in February, the ruling TMC had registered a landslide victory, winning 106 of 108 municipalities across the state. The CPI(M) won just one —Taherpur — while the fledgling Humro Party won Darjeeling.

Written by Ravik Bhattacharya , Atri Mitra | Nadia |
Updated: May 31, 2022 2:57:32 pm
In Taherpur, the CPI(M) won eight out of 13 seats, while the TMC won the rest. (Express Photo by Partha Paul)

It’s a rare sight for a political landscape riven with deep fault lines — flags of three parties, the CPI(M), Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the BJP, fluttering in front of the Taherpur civic body in West Bengal’s Nadia district. Welcome to Taherpur, the lone civic body in the state held by the CPI(M), a party that once dominated Bengal and its politics.

In the civic body elections held in February, the ruling TMC had registered a landslide victory, winning 106 of 108 municipalities across the state. The CPI(M) won just one —Taherpur — while the fledgling Humro Party won Darjeeling.

In Taherpur, the CPI(M) won eight out of 13 seats, while the TMC won the rest. Politically, the biggest challenge staring the CPI(M) in the face is to keep its flock together in the municipal board.

As it hangs on by its fingernails, the party realises that the only way it can stay alive is by displaying some political pragmatism — by “going to the market if I am hungry”, as Uttamananda Das, CPM leader and the Taherpur civic body’s chairman, puts it.

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“We are dependent on the state government for funds to carry out development work. We have readied projects and DPRs (detailed project reports). Now I will visit Kolkata frequently to get things done. The TMC’s councillors have told us that they will stand by us and help us get funds for projects,” says Das, sitting in a room in the two-storied building with six of his councillors.

“We are also planning to generate revenue by following state guidelines. DPRs have been made to renovate community halls and a marriage hall in 13 wards. We are also planning to renovate local markets,” adds Shova Shil, CPI(M) leader and vice-chairman of the municipality.

The CPI(M) has held the Taherpur Notified Area Authority since its establishment in 1993, except for a term between November 2011 and May 2015, when the Trinamool Congress formed the board. This is thus the second consecutive term for the CPM in the civic body.

Das and the other councillors claim their civic body has the best track record in implementing government schemes such as Mamata Banerjee’s flagship ‘Duare Sarkar’, an outreach programme that saw about 15,000 applications from the general public pouring into the civic body office in three phases.

As he takes great pains to stress the political bonhomie, Das says, “I have spoken to the chairman of the Birnagar municipality, which is run by the Trinamool Congress. I told him that for a drinking water project, we need pipelines to be brought from Bhagirathi (Hoogly) river, which is around 10 km away and will pass through Birnagar. He promised that we will together approach the state urban development department for the project.”

He hopes the BJP will complete the happy family picture in Taherpur. “We have no problems with the BJP. If the Lok Sabha MP (Ranaghat seat) and MLA (Ranaghat Uttar Paschim), who are from the BJP, help us, we will only be too happy,” adds Das.

The councillors, however, admit the friendship is fairly recent, with the run-up to the elections witnessing some tense moments.

“The challenge for us was to keep this municipality from the ruling party. All other gram panchayats and civic bodies around us are run by the TMC. During the elections, some of us were heckled and beaten up by miscreants. Our former chairman Ratan Ranjan Roy lost by 11 votes. But we are still standing together,” says Pushpo Halder, councillor of Ward No 13.

Both the CPI(M) and TMC councillors claim they have put the unpleasantness of the elections behind them.
At his home that’s a 10-minute drive from the municipality office, Satyanarayan Ghosh, the TMC’s Taherpur unit president, says, “For development, they (Left) will have to approach Didi (Mamata Banerjee). She will give money… We are ready to cooperate with the Left-run board. The Left has been in power here for long, but a lot is left to be done in terms of roads and infrastructure development.”

The two parties also claim that Taherpur is untouched by the syndicate culture that ails the state. “In Taherpur, we do not have that problem (of syndicates). You won’t hear about commissions and ‘cut money’ here. You can ask anyone in the town,” says TMC”s Jitendra Sarkar, councillor of Ward No 5.

Despite the open display of friendship, there are niggling problems, including that of “pending payments” from the state government. “We had disbursed more than Rs 17 lakh for the Duare Sarkar project. We are yet to get paid by the state government,” says former CPI(M) councillor Dipankar Chakraborty.

Besides, there is that niggling problem – that the TMC is yet to come to terms with the Left win.

“We cannot imagine that after so many years, the CPI(M) is still in power somewhere in Bengal, however small that place may be. I am surprised that our party did so well everywhere in Bengal but failed to grab the board here,” says TMC’s Ghosh, attributing the Left win to, among other issues, rebel TMC candidates standing as Independents.

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