1977, 82, 87, 91, 96, 2001...
Buddha’s bigger battle begins
Never say never again
BJP debut dreams turn to dust
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1977, 82, 87, 91, 96, 2001... 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, May 13: 
Bengal has renewed its faith in the Left with a vengeance.

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has been given such a thumping majority that Mamata Banerjee’s alliance has frozen well short of the three-figure mark, for all its hype and hyperbole.

So shocked is the Opposition camp, so utterly at loss that its leader did not even present herself in public today. Mamata offered to resign, owning moral responsibility for her alliance’s defeat.

“It was but natural,” said Bhattacharjee of the victory, hours after the results became apparent. Till then, in Alimuddin Street, the margin of the victory had not sunk in. In the Left camp, leaders were restrained.

The Left Front won 199 seats — just four less than its 1996 tally — of the 294 for which elections were held. Counting for the Baruipur constituency was yet to be concluded. In the 1999 Lok Sabha poll, the Left was ahead in 189 Assembly segments.

The endorsement of the Left as the government Bengal deserves for the sixth time in a row since 1977 has come with a rider: the CPM has, for the first time, lost its absolute majority. It has got 143 seats, the majority mark being 148.

Bhattacharjee retained his Jadavpur seat, which he won by more than 29,000 votes. Five ministers of the outgoing Cabinet were worsted in the hustings.

Such was the sweep for the Left Front that it cut across districts and regions. It not only retained its hold over the Red heartland of Midnapore, Bankura, Birbhum, Purulia and Hooghly, but surged and recovered seemingly lost ground in North 24-Parganas and Nadia.

The CPI today also won the Midnapore Lok Sabha bypoll, caused by Indrajit Gupta’s death, where its nominee Prabodh Panda beat Manoranjan Datta of Trinamul by 15,000 votes. Even in Calcutta, Mamata’s home turf, the Front wins were a major surprise. Only in South 24-Parganas, the revolt of Samir Putatunda and his Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS) halted the Left juggernaut, though not quite stalling it.

More than the PDS, however, the BJP played the spoiler on a scale that the Trinamul-Congress alliance had not bargained for. The saffronites seemed to have to come to the aid of the Marxists in over 30 seats, proving once again that Mamata lost the battle with the failure of the mahajot offensive. Her alliance with the Congress gave her an advantage, but it fell far short of what she needed to throw out the Left.

The Left’s sweep was not only geographical but also social. It has won in the countryside and made gains in urban centres and industrial areas, indicating that support for it has come from farmers, the middle-class and workers.

“This is unprecedented in world history. Our responsibility has gone up manifold,” said Jyoti Basu. Basu was bitterly critical of the media which, he said, was making unfounded allegations against the Left.

“The people of this state know us for 24 years. They know what we are capable of doing and what we have not been able to do. I greet them for reposing faith in us,” said Bhattacharjee. He did not envisage problems because the CPM had not won a majority on its own.

However, the Forward Bloc indicated that it will ask for the deputy chief minister’s post. This, Forward Bloc leaders say, will be in keeping with the principle adopted at the time the Left Front was formed — that the largest party will have the chief ministership and the second largest the deputy chief ministership.

Bhattacharjee said industrial development will be the new government’s top priority. He said he will not adopt a path of confrontation but the government will not endorse the Centre’s policies that let foreign companies prey on domestic markets. “There is a Central list and a state list and a concurrent list. We just want a working relationship with the Centre,” he said. He will begin the exercise of forming his team tomorrow.

“People of West Bengal want change. So we are also changing. They (the Congress-Trinamul) are status-quoist,” Bhattacharjee said. “I also want their support and hope they will be a constructive Opposition. I want to understand the problems of those who did not vote for us and seek their support. This victory is a reconfirmation that for 24 years we have been on the right track.”

Despondency set in in the Mamata camp and grew with every hour that the leader kept herself away. As expected, the blaming exercise also began. Ranjit Panja, who was with Mamata in the campaign despite his brother, Ajit Panja’s rebellion, today hit out at her.

Over the past two days, Mamata Banerjee had been proclaiming aloud that though there were irregularities in the voting, she was sure of winning.

THE TALLY

LEFT FRONT


CPM		145
Rest		 54
Total		199

OPPOSITION

Trinamul	59	
Congress	26
Total		85
Others		 9
Total seats: 294  
 

 
 
BUDDHA’S BIGGER BATTLE BEGINS 
 
 
BY ASHIS CHAKRABARTI
 
Calcutta, May 13: 
Neither he nor the CPM would admit this in public, but today’s massive verdict for the Left Front was as much a personal triumph for Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee as it was one more testimony to the party’s formidable organisation and its famed election machinery.

He was the new face, the new image that sent out a signal that Bhattacharjee was the great helmsman who would push the Jyoti Basu era behind — in the party and the government. Here was the man to take both along in his great leap forward.

That was the promise that Bhattacharjee himself held out and the party held its ground with it. But now Bhattacharjee has to keep that promise. Having won his battle against Mamata, he now has to win the crucial battle within the party over some fundamental issues of change.

One reason why large sections of the urban middle class seem to have returned to the Left’s fold is that Bhattacharjee succeeded in convincing them that he not only promised change, but had actually begun the process. He underscored the importance of change at his first interaction with the media after the Left victory. “We are changing,” he said. The verdict suggested that the majority of people liked his, rather than Mamata’s, agenda for change.

Moreover, Mamata’s was an agenda, not only for change, but a complete break. The Trinamul Congress leader failed where Bhattacharjee succeeded — in driving home the message that his would be change with stability and continuity. This seems to have had its appeal to people in towns and villages, cutting across socio-economic barriers.

To start with, Bhattacharjee has identified three areas which needed policy changes — education, health and, of course, economic reforms. In ushering in change in education, he has to ensure that the idea of excellence is no longer dumped as elitism and hence sacrificed at the altar of so-called egalitarianism. In doing so, he will have to open the gates far wider for quality private enterprise in education, especially in management.

In his first six months as chief minister, he initiated steps to accept the new economy mantras in line with the change in the party’s position on reforms. He — and the party — will continue to uphold the seen and unseen virtues of the public sector. But his economic agenda will come to rely more and more on private enterprise. This may be the case, not just with education and industry, but with areas like health and urban development as well.

In many of these, he has taken two steps forward and has to see that he does not have go one step back. This is where his most important battle with the party may be waiting to happen. In education, many party leaders still think that the anti-elitist policies, ushered in by Promode Dasgupta, are valid even today. In economic reforms, too, he may find himself out of step with the party.

Despite his long years of heading the party’s youth wing, Bhattacharjee has never been an organisation man. But he has to do two things at a time now: he has to be his own man and he has to fashion the party in his own new image. It is not a parallel, but he may have to do something of what A.B. Vajpayee had to with the RSS — keep the Sangh parivar at Nagpur, while he ruled in New Delhi.

   

 
 
NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN 
 
 
BY SUJAN DUTTA
 
Calcutta, May 13: 
Her campaign against the Left scattered to the four winds, Mamata Banerjee today stands alone, wondering where to go and how to go about it.

The Left’s unrelenting charge has been numbing for her, going by her immediate response to it — she was a recluse through the day.

She was preparing to take credit for a victory she assumed was inevitable. Now that she has lost, she is taking all the blame. The painful security of solitude she took refuge in as the results poured in is anything but the hallmark of a leader: when her followers needed her most, she was trying only to console herself, own moral responsibility for the defeat by offering to resign as national chairperson of Trinamul.

What has happened of the fire-eating elder sister, the didi?

In her first test of fortitude, Mamata is beginning to show signs of failure. Holding the party and the alliance together must be her top priority if she is to continue in politics.

Trinamul MPs have scarcely concealed that they are flirting with the idea of breaking away and rejoining the NDA. Ranjit Panja, who was with Mamata for much of her campaign, has been severely critical of her. His brother and Trinamul chairman, Ajit Panja, has already thrown the gauntlet. Nitish Sengupta, too, has voiced reservations about continuing with Mamata.

Having gone so far with the Congress in so high-profile a manner, it will be next to impossible for her to tie up with the BJP again. Mamata’s political future continues to lie in her alliance with the Congress because it still gives her a broader spectrum of appeal to the electorate in Bengal than a tie-up with the BJP does.

She can count on Sonia Gandhi for some support, given her rapport with 10 Janpath. But that rapport, too, is subject to test. The Congress despises those who cannot win elections for it. Mamata will need Sonia now, much more than in the past. Her problem is that she will not be able to negotiate from a position of strength despite her party being the dominant partner in the alliance.

Within the relationship with the Congress, Mamata can expect a revival of old rivalries. Somen Mitra and friends will use the election results to justify how the tactic of heaping scorn on the Left without building an organisation has failed. There is little doubt that it has. Political resentment in Bengal has been harnessed better by the Left because its organisation is deeper and broader, enabling it to beat Mamata at her own game.

Topple and change was Mamata’s slogan which the Left co-opted and accommodated within its establishment because its cadre reach every constituency till the booth level and mobilise its voters to cast their ballots. Lack of organisation has meant Mamata has not been able to translate resentment into votes and votes into seats.

Mamata’s first test to keep the alliance alive will be in the Calcutta civic corporation. Mamata can expect Subrata Mukherjee to toughen up, too.

The mayor of Calcutta is unhappy with Trinamul activists being packed around him. In the corporation, the Trinamul holds a slender lead because of a loose alliance with the Congress and the BJP - a mini mahajot. Writers’ Buildings still door ast, Mamata will be required to guard what she has without aspiring for too much, too soon.

Mamata can expect another let-down from the Centre after the Union railways ministry goes ahead with an upward revision of fares sooner rather than later. That will send her budget for a six and, with it, the claim that her heart beats for Bengal.

The week beginning today will determine whether Mamata is man enough to gather her wits, take the flak, and steel herself. The weeks after that will see a Mamata choosing between political gumption and consolation in solitude.

Had she been elected, she might have been Bengal’s youngest chief minister. Bengal usually tests aspirants for that post for much longer than she has been in politics.

   

 
 
BJP DEBUT DREAMS TURN TO DUST 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, May 13: 
In a stunning mandate, the ADMK, whose chief Jayalalitha was disqualified from contesting the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections, returned with a vengeance, while the Left Front romped back to Writers’ Building with a comfortable majority in West Bengal.

In Kerala, the anti-incumbency sentiment took toll of the Left Democratic Front (LDF), which made way for the United Democratic Front (UDF). The other casualty of discontent with the ruling government was the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), which was crushed by the Congress.

Assam chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta lost in the prestigious Dispur seat to a political novice. Mahanta won in another seat, but with a sharply reduced margin.

The unambiguous verdicts in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal defied pollsters’ projections of “close” fights in both cases.

In Pondicherry, the Congress also seems set to retain power, though it is just short of a simple majority.

In an election in which the honours were shared by the Congress and its allies and the Left Front, the BJP made no impact. The party failed to open its account in Kerala and Bengal, both of which it keenly eyed. BJP leaders had openly spoken of a hung Assembly in both states and claimed the party would play a “decisive” role.

The BJP’s performance was as dismal in Tamil Nadu where it had been gaining ground since 1998. In Assam, where it had allied with the AGP, it came a distant second to the Congress.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, however, said the results “seem to be” along expected lines. “Though the picture is not clear at this moment, the poll results seem to be heading on the expected lines,” he said shortly before leaving for Malaysia on a three-day tour.

BJP president K. Jana Krishnamurthi maintained that the NDA government would not be “weakened by the poll outcome” which, he added, reflected the “predominance of local issues highlighted in electioneering”.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi countered that the results were a “reflection” on the working of the NDA government, especially the BJP, and would “certainly” impact the Centre. “It is a reflection on the working of the Central government. Certain policies of theirs had an impact at the state level also, like the plight of farmers and other issues,” she said.

Senior Congressman Arjun Singh, however, said destabilising the NDA was not on his party’s agenda. “I don’t say it (the outcome) is a national verdict. But it’s an exposure of the true colours of the BJP government. Layer after layer is peeling off and the government stands exposed.”

The clear verdicts notwithstanding, the elections have highlighted a set of complexities. The question of whether Jayalalitha can become the chief minister or not remains to be settled. The ADMK chief has said she is the only bona fide claimant to the post and none of her allies have contested her claim. She has already spelt out her priorities and brushed aside queries on what would happen if she was disallowed from assuming the post.

In Kerala, the Congress has to resolve the claims of its two chief-ministerial aspirants — A.K. Antony and K. Karunakaran. In Pondicherry, the Congress, which has emerged as the largest party, has to garner the ADMK-PMK combine’s support to get a working majority.

In West Bengal, Mamata faces the threat of a split in her party, with MPs like Ajit Panja raring to rejoin the NDA in the hope of a Cabinet post.

Though the BJP claimed that the results were not a “referendum” on the Centre’s policies, party sources admitted that there was need to “introspect” on its failure to open its account in Kerala and the reasons for losing base in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. The party said it would concentrate “single-mindedly” on Uttar Pradesh, which is expected to go to polls either in October or early next year.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 33.3°C (-3)
Minimum: 25.5°C (-1)

Rainfall

Trace

Relative Humidity

Max: 92%
Min: 53%

Today

Partly cloudy sky. Maximum temperature likely to be around 35°C.
Sunrise: 4.59 am
Sunset: 6.06 pm
   
 

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