The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Red-faced in clean sweep
CPM caught in landslide

Calcutta June 21: A CPM leader’s face fell this afternoon when the result flashed on the screen that the Left Front had won Salt Lake 18 to 5. Embarrassment in victory.

Today’s story is not the story of the Left wresting Calcutta back from the Opposition with 75 out of 141 seats, which had been expected, but of the tiny township of Salt Lake ' the site where the action was on poll day.

“The mandate is a huge popular endorsement of our initiative on developing Calcutta and Salt Lake in tune with similar initiatives under way in rest of Bengal,” said CPM state secretary Anil Biswas.

He claimed the results were an indication of the Left’s success in drawing upper-class voters, a section that has traditionally not supported it.

It wasn’t clear if he made the statement with the intention of indirectly justifying the stunning win in Salt Lake, but the result there would be hard to explain in terms of simple electoral politics. Which is why gloom coloured the CPM leader’s face amid glory.

Just over a year ago in the Lok Sabha elections, Amitava Nandi, the CPM’s candidate, had trailed in the Salt Lake part of Dum Dum constituency by over 6,000 votes. He was behind in 16 out of 22 wards.

In the civic polls, the equation has completely turned around ' the Left has grabbed 18 (CPM getting 17).

As in Calcutta, where the Left took its 2000 tally of 61 to 75, the seats in Salt Lake came at the cost of Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress.

Calcutta mayor Subrata Mukherjee, who left Trinamul to team up with the Congress, won himself but the combine came a distant third. The decline that set in during the Lok Sabha polls stayed with the Trinamul-BJP grouping, which dropped from 61 five years ago to 45.

For one more time, it became clear that without a united Opposition, the Left would not only win Bengal but also Calcutta where the CPM is trying to build a reputation as a party with urban appeal, too.

That brings the story back to Salt Lake where the CPM’s North 24-Parganas unit cried itself hoarse through the voice of Subhas Chakraborty, a senior leader and transport minister, that police were preventing party activists from entering the township on poll-eve.

On poll day, the clash between the police at a booth in ward 12, where incidentally Trinamul won, and Nandi, who was accompanied by Joykrishna Ghosh, Jyoti Basu’s aide, has created a turmoil in the CPM not seen in recent memory.

Party headquarters, read Biswas, has backed the police action. Today Biswas delivered a resounding snub to Chakraborty. “His (Chakraborty’s) remarks have no importance. He has been making these adverse remarks about the party for the last 27 years and these have had no impact.”

Some observers see in the heavy security arrangements, combined with these harsh comments, an indication of the government’s and the party headquarters’ intention to bring the troublesome North 24-Parganas into line and hold a poll unaccompanied by customary cries of rigging.

They feel that the CPM is trying to make itself more acceptable to the urban voter.

The 18-5 score suggests that objective might have been defeated.

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