The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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CPM steamrolls divided Opposition

Calcutta, June 11: Riding a combination of overwhelming Muslim support, eroded Opposition bases and a sharp division in anti-Left votes, the CPM today scripted yet another electoral success story by winning handsomely the Nabadwip parliamentary and the Vidyasagar Assembly constituencies. The byelections were held on Sunday.

With victories in the bypolls on which the state’s attention was riveted for the past several weeks, the CPM highlighted the growing irrelevance of the mainline Opposition — Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress, the Congress and the BJP — to Bengal politics.

“Each electoral victory for us means discharging larger responsibilities,” said state CPM secretary Anil Biswas. “We cannot shy away from our duties and commitment because people vote for us supporting our programmes and policies.”

The results were particularly painful for the principal Opposition party, Trinamul, as it had to witness, within a month of experiencing a “Red wash” in the May panchayat election, the wresting of its Nabadwip Lok Sabha seat by a huge margin.

“Their (CPM) talks about duties, beliefs, commitments are rubbish. They win because they rig polls, making a mockery of democracy,” said Pankaj Banerjee, Trinamul leader in the Assembly.

State Congress vice-president Pradip Bhattacharya echoed him. “They could win in such a manner thanks to systematic mobilisation of outsiders and organised rigging.”

The bitterness reflected how the party’s hopes of building on its panchayat poll gains have crashed on the bypoll platform.

The seats fell vacant following the death of sitting Trinamul MP Ananda Mohan Biswas and CPM legislator and Left Front chief whip Lakshmi De.

Anadi Kumar Sahu retained Vidyasagar for the CPM by defeating his nearest rival, Mahua Mondal of the Congress, by a margin of 22,829 votes. A former Trinamul member and once a Mamata favourite, Mahua had hoped to turn in a better performance on the presumed strength of her father and suspended Trinamul MP Ajit Panja’s carefully cultivated image and personalised election machinery.

Alakesh Das annexed Nabadwip, trouncing Trinamul’s Abir Ranjan Biswas, son of Ananda Mohan, by a margin of 98,800 votes. Mamata’s high-octave campaign and the supposed strength of the anti-Left forces there proved inadequate to contain the CPM’s thrust.

Bagging Nabadwip, the CPM managed to shave off Trinamul’s strength in the Lok Sabha to eight from nine.With Panja and Sudip Bandopadhay in various stages of disassociation with the party, Trinamul’s effective strength can be said to be around six. Coupled with the latest debacle, the figure robs Mamata of manoeuvring space to drive a hard bargain with the BJP-led NDA at the Centre.

The huge margins of victory were a talking point in the state’s political circles as they dwarfed the CPM’s previous best in the seats, signalling a disturbing portent for the Opposition, especially Trinamul, just a year before the next general election.

A quick analysis shows that the CPM would have lost the by-election had there been a mahajot (grand alliance) between the Trinamul-BJP combine and the Congress. The combined Opposition polled 5, 59,149 votes against the CPM’s 5,20,630. Congress candidate Rajani Dolui bagged 1,37,319 votes, thereby splitting the anti-Left support and paving the way for the CPM victory.

In terms of the seven Assembly segments making up the parliamentary constituency, the CPM appears to have knocked up the huge margin on the strength of the leads it got in Chakda (64,000 as against 14,000 recorded against Biswas in 1999), Haringhata (19,000) and Ranaghat West (10,000), a Congress bailiwick.

By contrast, Trinamul did well in Ranaghat East, Hanskhali and Nabadwip, working up relatively small leads. The Congress ate heavily into Trinamul’s ballots in Shantipur and a few other segments. At the highest level of the state Congress, the feeling was the party could have done better had it chosen its candidate with care. “The voter did not accept Dolui, a rank outsider. We should have fielded a local,” said a party leader.

In Calcutta, the CPM’s Sahu could slam Mahua on the strength of support from a substantial chunk of 38,000 Muslim voters, a little less than 40 per cent of about 99,000 voters which the Congress had hoped to mop up. Besides, the Congress’ expectation that the so-called magic of Panja — believed to be liked by voters of both communities — did not work at all.

As a result, Mahua suffered a crushing defeat, the scale of which was a little less than the sum total of margins on which all Assembly elections in the pre-dominantly CPM constituency had been determined between 1977 and 2001.

Though the BJP sank without a trace in Vidyasagar, its leaders in Delhi may find it tempting to block Mamata’s bid — expected around the monsoon session of Parliament — for a Cabinet berth by citing her consecutive electoral debacles as justification.

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