Bengal's comrades still have miles to go (West Bengal Newsletter)
By Sirshendu Panth, Kolkata, Mar 2 : Only a month ago, they seemed to be rejuvenated and enthused after a series of flip-flops by the Mamata Banerjee administration. But the results of the recent assembly by-elections have come as a reality check for West Bengal's once invincible Left Front.
The poll outcome has put paid to talk of the Left regaining the support of the people, which it lost in the years preceding the 2011 election debacle. The drop in its candidates' vote share in each of the three constituencies that went to the hustings Feb 23 has caused deep lines of worry on the foreheads of the Left Front leaders.
Although the Left Front managed to wrest one seat from the Congress at Birbhum district's Nalhati, the detailed results revealed that their success was almost entirely because of the division of votes between the Trinamool Congress and the Congress, which fought the elections separately for the first time after snapping their alliance both at the centre and the state last September.
While Dipak Chatterjee of the Forward Bloc won by 7,742 votes against his closest rival Abdur Rehman of the Congress, the Bloc's vote share dropped by over six percent compared to the assembly polls two years ago.
In the May 2011 polls, Chatterjee had finished second to Congress candidate Abhijit Mukherjee, son of President Pranab Mukherjee, bagging around 39 percent of the votes. But this time, Chatterjee returned triumphant despite getting the support of only about 33 percent of the voters.
Runners-up Congress and third-placed Trinamool each secured around 28 percent votes. The combined votes of the two parties exceeded that of the Bloc by over 39,000 in the seat, considered a Left bastion since 1977.
The Bloc candidates had won seven back-to-back elections till Mukherjee stopped the left's run of successes in alliance with the Trinamool.
At Rejinagar in Murshidabad district, Revolutionary Socialist Party's Sirajul Islam Mondal went down to Congress nominee Rabiul Alam Chowdhury by a 11,722 margin.
In the elections two years back, Mondal had got 44 percent of the votes, which dropped by around 12 percent this time around.
Similar was the story of the Left's eclipse in English Bazar of Malda district. The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) candidate Kaushik Mishra was trounced by Tourism Minister and Trinamool candidate Krishnendu Narayan Chowdhury by an emphatic 20,452-vote difference.
Mishra had to be satisfied with about 28 percent of the votes, which fell steeply from the 40.5 percent vote share of Samarananda Roy, who had lost to then Congress candidate Chowdhury in 2011.
The poll verdicts were a continuation of the trend seen since the 2008 rural body polls which showed the first cracks in the Left Front's support base. It has been a downhill journey for the Marxist-led Left Front in subsequent elections spanning the Lok Sabha, municipalities, and the 2011 assembly elections.
However, things seemed to be looking up for the Marxists in the recent past, with the Trinamool government drawing flak almost every day from the media and the civil society on a wide range of issues like law and order, violence against women, arrogance of the ministers including that of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who grabbed headlines for all the wrong reasons after threatening to whip her security guards and slap photo journalists.
As the Banerjee administration evoked sharp criticism, the CPI-M started drawing the crowds. Former chief minister Buddhadeb Dasgupta, who had kept away from the limelight after the Left Front's rout in the assembly polls, became active, addressing large gatherings from Nandigram in East Midnapore district to Baruipur in South 24 Parganas, and giving high-profile interviews to leading television channels which got high TRP ratings.
But the by-elections showed that Bengal's comrades still have miles to go before they regain their lost glory.
(Sirshendu Panth can be contacted at email@example.com)