BENGAL POLITICS: Queen of Calcutta, not of Bengal yet – Buddha loses popular mandate – how does this play out at the Central Level Political Balance, the ‘ Tail to continue Wagging the Dog’ ?!!
BY ASHIS CHAKRABARTI
Calcutta, June 2: Repeating the trend of the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, Bengal has again voted decisively against the Left. The results of the civic polls across the state should leave Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in no doubt that he has lost the popular mandate to rule.
The verdict is yet another confirmation of the big political transformation that has been taking place in Bengal since the panchayat polls two years ago. At the centre of the change is the people’s rejection of the Left. And it is growing stronger from election to election.
True, these were civic polls and the voters numbered about 16 per cent of Bengal’s total electorate. Constitutionally, the government can last one more year. But these arguments do not alter the fact that the verdict has robbed Left rule of its political and moral legitimacy.
More than ever before, Mamata Banerjee’s call for early polls would not only look justified but also have a wider popular appeal. In rejecting the idea for early polls, the CPM’s politburo member M.K. Pandhe and Bengal unit secretary Biman Bose were utterly predictable, but that only seemed to highlight the hiatus between the party and the people.
The CPM’s refusal to accept the people’s verdict and seek a fresh mandate can only strengthen Mamata’s resolve to force the issue. For, the people who voted overwhelmingly for her call for change could see in the CPM’s refusal a brazen attempt to hold on to power.
The massive swing against the Left has been mostly her doing. The results show that her campaign to forge a broad unity against the Left has not only held but also intensified since the 2009 polls.
Nowhere was the popular mood stronger than in Calcutta, which has been her primary base for a long time. For all the CPM’s campaigns against her over the recent train disaster, her party’s alleged links with Maoists and other issues, the people seemed to have settled for just one thing — the ouster of the Left.
Mamata’s massive victory in Calcutta has few parallels in recent politics in Bengal. Her break-up with the Congress makes it look ever more awesome.
But the results have another message that clearly makes Mamata’s victory less than complete. She made a clean sweep of Calcutta, but failed to take the rest of Bengal.
The difference between Calcutta and the districts for the Trinamul Congress is a striking feature of the results. While Trinamul won Calcutta and Salt Lake overwhelmingly on its own strength, it could get only 25 of the 79 civic boards in the districts. Hidden under that tally is the fact that in at least seven of these municipalities, Trinamul’s success was made easier by official or unofficial seat adjustments with the Congress.
An important tale thus hangs by the “hung” verdict in as many as 29 municipalities. Mamata was confident that Trinamul would form the board in most of these civic bodies and the party may well do so.
But that does not change the fact that she could not take the rest of Bengal the way she swept Calcutta. She would need the Congress to form the boards in the “hung” municipalities. This means that even such a massive wave against the Left is not enough for Trinamul to seize power in Bengal on its own. This may change but it is so at least at this moment.
It is entirely possible, though, that many Congress winners will leave the party and join Trinamul to help the latter form the boards. But the results in the districts prove beyond doubt that Mamata’s run for Writers’ Buildings could still be an open question without help from the Congress.
As for the Congress, the first look at the results could be somewhat misleading. With the break-up of the alliance, its chances never looked very bright. Mamata’s campaign against the Left has always had another significant political angle — the spread of her area of influence had to be at the expense of both the Left and other non-Left parties such as the Congress.
It is still unclear how much the Congress vote queered the pitch for Trinamul in the municipalities in the districts where the two parties fought each other. What is clear, however, is that the Congress has held on to its traditional areas of strength, such as Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar, Malda, Murshidabad and parts of Burdwan and Nadia. And this too braving the double onslaught of the CPM and Trinamul.
While the Left may become yesterday’s story, the Congress could be more relevant than Mamata would like to admit. To capture Bengal whenever the Assembly polls take place, she may need the Congress more than the latter may need her because it is she, more than the Congress, who wants to rule Bengal hereafter.
Hung, it is time to reach out – 29 municipalities tickle Trinamul and Congress – putting aside home differences ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
Calcutta, June 2: The elections have thrown up as many as 29 hung municipalities, prompting Mamata Banerjee to soften her stand on the Congress and say she would welcome its support to form civic boards.
In each of the 29 hung civic bodies, estranged allies Trinamul Congress and Congress can together form the board. Independents can also make a difference in some boards but they usually wait for the picture to become clear on who holds the edge before revealing their cards.
Mamata had dubbed the Congress “a party of betrayers” and its leaders “CPM agents’’ during the campaign. Today, she said: “We have no complaints against any political party for the failure of the alliance in the municipal elections. They might have had some compulsions. But I am with the UPA and will continue to be part of the coalition at the Centre to serve the people.”
She added: “If my UPA friend extends support to help us form civic boards in places where there is a hung verdict, I shall feel obliged to them.”
Asked whether the Congress would offer support to Trinamul to form boards, state Congress working president Pradip Bhattacharya said: “We wanted an alliance with Trinamul though it didn’t happen. But it’s good that Mamata wants our support.
“I have talked to Pranabda (Pranab Mukherjee) today. The verdict across the state has been anti-Left, and the votes in the hung bodies went mostly in favour of Trinamul or the Congress. So, what’s wrong in joining hands to form municipal bodies?’’
In the past, the state has been witness to post-poll alliances between the Congress and Trinamul to form local bodies.
After the 2008 panchayat elections, there were such tie-ups in several districts, leading to the formation of non-Left gram panchayats and panchayat samitis.
North 24-Parganas, where 21 municipalities went to the polls on May 30, has the highest number of hung civic bodies: nine. Hooghly has four: Konnagar, Serampore, Rishra and Champdani.
In Maoist-hit West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia, five of the 12 municipalities spread across the belt have witnessed hung verdicts.
In north Bengal, where seven municipalities went to the polls, only two have hung bodies. The fate of Cooch Behar’s Mathabhanga municipality, where there’s a tie between Trinamul and the Left, may be decided by a flip of the coin.
Of the 19 municipalities spread across Burdwan, Birbhum, Nadia and South 24-Parganas, nine require the Congress and Trinamul to tie up to form the board.
Murshidabad, where six municipalities have held elections, is the only district without a hung verdict.
Centre orders CBI probe into train crash – immediate understanding of power shift by the Centre ?!!
BY NISHIT DHOLABHAI
New Delhi, June 2: The UPA government today accepted Mamata Banerjee’s demand and ordered a CBI probe into the Jnaneswari Express tragedy, the decision coming within hours of her party sweeping the Bengal civic polls.
The probe has apparently been ordered under a section of the law that doesn’t require the consent of the state government, which had told the Centre two days ago that the CBI needn’t step in as the state CID was on the job.
“The investigation will be done by the CBI because the incident happened on railway property. It will be a joint probe,” a senior official of the Union home ministry said. Explaining “joint probe”, he said it would be headed by the CBI, with the Bengal CID and the railway police as “associates”. The notification for the CBI probe will be issued tomorrow.
Mamata suspected a political conspiracy in the disaster that killed 150 people. But Union home minister P. Chidambaram said the “needle of suspicion” pointed towards Maoists.
Publicly, however, the ministry claimed that it had the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government’s “consent”. “The state has consented,” the official stressed. G.K. Pillai, the Union home secretary, spoke to Bengal chief secretary Ardhendu Sen and home secretary Samar Ghosh today, informing them about the decision.
The move came after the home department received a railway ministry letter saying the state’s consent wasn’t needed under Section 5 (1) of the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act, which sets rules for CBI probes.
Trying to remove the impression of a U-turn, home ministry officials argued that they had sought the Bengal government’s consent earlier this week under Section 6A of the same act, which makes such concurrence mandatory.
Section 5 (1) states: “The central government may by order extend (the) powers and jurisdiction of (a) member of the Delhi Special Police Establishment (in this case the CBI) for the investigation of any offences or classes of offences to any area (including railways areas) in a state.”
In Calcutta, home secretary Ghosh said a letter from the Union home secretary’s office had also reached Writers’ Buildings today. “I have received the letter and also talked to him (Pillai) on the matter.”
When it was pointed out that the CID was already probing the case, Ghosh said: “If it is found that the CBI will be probing the same issues and aspects of the sabotage, there will be no inquiry by the CID. Otherwise both inquiries may continue simultaneously.”
State police chief Bhupinder Singh almost echoed him, saying that even if the CBI conducts an inquiry, it sometimes seeks help from the state government. “We will provide them (the CBI) with assistance if they require. Sometimes, they start from the beginning, sometimes they pick up from the point till which the CID has completed its inquiry,” he said.
Jitters give way to shouts of joy – a ‘just, fair and non prochial’ Bengal, too much to hope for ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH BUREAU
Rabi Mondol’s eyes were closed and hands folded. Standing outside Hare School on College Street, the 32-year-old electrician from Tara Chand Dutta Street was praying.
“The initial trends are not encouraging. I hope my party maintains the momentum it gained in the Lok Sabha elections last year,” muttered the die-hard Mamata Banerjee supporter around 9.30am, when Left Front candidates were going neck and neck with those of the Trinamul Congress.
An hour later, the picture had changed. A smiling Mondol reached into his trouser pocket. When he brought his hands out, he was holding a fistful of green abir.
“I bought abir yesterday but did not want to bring it out before becoming sure that my party was going to win the election. Now we are going to celebrate,” said Mondol, before blowing a bugle.
Hundreds of Trinamul supporters who had been anxiously tracking trends erupted in jubilation at the sound. Huge party flags appeared from nowhere and covered the sky. Slogans like “Jidhar Mamata, udhar janta” and “Thanda thanda, cool cool, jeete gelo Trinamul” filled the air.
More youths arrived on motorcycles, carrying abir, flags and badges with Mamata’s picture and distributed these among supporters.
The scenes in south Calcutta, Trinamul’s bastion, were no different. The party supporters were celebrating outside every counting centre.
Those outside Ballygunge Government School — many were waiting since dawn with party flags and abir — were the most jubilant. The party won all the 11 seats, whose votes were being counted in the school. “We have won all the seats in borough VIII. It’s a clean sweep for us,” yelled Sayan Chakraborty to every familiar face he saw around him.
The party workers paraded a man in his mid-40s, wearing a garland of edible oil bottles and packets of cereals. “This is to say that the Left Front government is responsible for the price hike and the results reflect that,” said Chakraborty.
Trinamul supporters outside Jodhpur Park Girls’ High School, another counting centre, could scarcely believe the change in the party’s fortunes. “Last time, we won only two out of the seven seats in borough XII. This time we won six seats in there,” declared Pranab Dey, who had been standing outside the school for hours.