The extraordinary success of the Trinamool Congress in the West Bengal urban bodies elections is a big boost for Mamata Banerjee. The party won 70 of the 91 urban bodies in the state and its tally in the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (114 out of 144 wards) surpasses the best the Left Front managed in its heyday. It has won all major urban bodies across the state barring Siliguri, the second largest city, which went to the CPM. Despite a series of scandals — the Saradha chit fund scam, for instance — and dissensions rocking the party and government, the Trinamool has managed to keep in check its main rival, the CPM, and potential challenger, the BJP.
With West Bengal set for assembly elections next year, the municipal poll results should worry the opposition. Urban body poll results need not necessarily be replicated in assembly elections, but they can hint at the mood on the ground. Notwithstanding the large-scale violence and allegations of rigging, the scale of the Trinamool win indicates the continuing dominance of the party in the state’s urban pockets. By all accounts, the opposition didn’t have the tactical imagination or the organisational machinery to deepen the faultlines within the Trinamool or exploit the possible dissatisfaction with the Mamata administration. Much was said about the rise of the BJP, but the party, lacking a robust organisation in the state and a credible regional leadership, could not match the hype. The CPM appears to have arrested its decline, though a revival is not in sight.
A divided opposition helped the Trinamool sweep the polls. Clearly, the challenge to the Trinamool can come only from a party that can match the former’s organisational might and also consolidate the anti-incumbency sentiment in its favour. While the political aims of the Left and the Congress overlap, the CPM central leadership, including new general secretary Sitaram Yechury, has persistently discounted the possibility of a partnership. The new CPM politico-tactical document has left a window for state leaderships to build tactical alliances at the regional level in accordance with local party compulsions. The urban bodies poll outcome could force the Left and the Congress to have a conversation in West Bengal, which could then have ramifications for national politics.