The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Rivals count chinks, CPM smirks

May 20: As the countdown to Sunday's elections to 79 municipalities started, the Left Front appeared set to get the better of a fractured Opposition comprising a faction-ridden Trinamul Congress and the beleaguered Congress.

However, with campaigning coming to a close this afternoon, leaders from both Trinamul and the Congress tried to put up a brave front, claiming that they would wrest a sizeable number of municipalities from the Left.

Out of 79 civic bodies going to polls in less than 48 hours, the front controls 42 (see box).

Congress working president Pradip Bhattacharya said tonight the CPM had resorted to violence right before the polls to terrorise voters.

Sheikh Sadar, 35, was shot and hacked by miscreants at Khajurdihi in Katwa, Burdwan, 180 km from Calcutta, this afternoon. Police said he was returning home after standing witness in a murder case in the Katwa court.

Bhattacharya said Sadar was a Congress supporter.

As the news spread, party activists attacked the house of a CPM supporter and hurled bombs. Three people had to be hospitalised.

'The brutal killing of a party member in Katwa by armed CPM men minutes before the campaign ended is indicative of the party's terror tactics. But we believe that people would frustrate the cadre's efforts to create violence on polling day,' Bhattacharya said.

State CPM secretary Anil Biswas ruled out the possibility of any violence. 'It is usual with the Opposition to cry hoarse against 'violence' before every election. The people, fed up with the faction-ridden Opposition parties, will vote for the Left Front to ensure stability and development,' he said.

Biswas pointed out that 51 front candidates had already won unopposed. 'This shows that we will win a majority of the 79 municipalities.'

Observers said both Trinamul and the Congress, plagued by growing dissent among the rank and file, are expected to suffer setbacks.

For Mamata Banerjee's party, mayor Subrata Mukherjee's breaking away with five MLAs and several mayor-in-council members might bear heavy. Dum Dum MLA Arunava Ghosh's resignation is also bound to hurt.

The Congress is equally crippled by infighting. Rivalry between MP Adhir Chowdhury and MLA Atish Sinha in stronghold Murshidabad has resulted in several Independents in the fray. Fed-up with the row, the party chief avoided campaigning in the district.

In Calcutta last week, he was roughed up by partymen seeking tickets for their leader's wife. Thankfully for the party, the city civic body and the Bidhannagar and Uttarpara-Kotrang municipalities are going to polls on June 19.

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