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LEFT FRONT: 235

Calcutta, May 11: One of the first congratulatory messages Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee received this evening was from Ratan Tata. It was not the only measure of the trust reposed in him, but still a significant indication of a new hope in Bengal he has come to represent.

He made this hope the centrepiece of these elections. The people responded overwhelmingly to Bhattacharjee’s promise of a new Bengal and reposed their faith in his ability to fulfil it.

He faced an odd but major challenge, too. The Election Commission’s extraordinary steps put the Left in the dock and indirectly questioned the legitimacy of its 29-year rule. The chief minister had to prove that he not only offered a winning economic agenda, but had clean politics to go with it. After this victory, the Opposition’s charge that the Left has ruled Bengal by rigging the polls will be consigned for ever to fiction.

Whipped, Mamata Banerjee looked to the future. “Politics is not for today but for tomorrow,” she said.

There are many ways to look at the Left’s astounding victory ' for the seventh time in a row. But there is no doubt it is a mandate for development. The massive swing in favour of the Left, even after 29 years of reign, shows how the chief minister got it politically right when he made economic development the burden of his poll song.

That this would be so in his new term as well was underscored by Bhattacharjee himself within hours of victory. Talking to the media at the CPM office, he said development would be the thrust of his new government. The “spirit of the verdict”, according to him, was the people’s desire for a performing government. And, the people clearly thought that Bhattacharjee’s government had performed well enough over the past five years to be trusted with another spell.

The people’s trust showed in many different ways. It showed in the Left notching up impressive wins in all parts of the state, in villages and towns alike. It was evident most strikingly in Bhattacharjee’s own victory margin of 58,000, which made former chief minister Jyoti Basu “proud of his (Bhattacharjee’s) achievement”.

IT minister Manab Mukherjee, commerce and industries minister Nirupam Sen, urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya and housing minister Goutam Deb, known as the most pro-active and development-friendly comrades of the chief minister, also won with large margins.

Bhattacharjee’s ' and the CPM’s ' task was made easier by a divided, dispirited and despairing Opposition. It had nothing to combat the Left’s development slogan with. Worse, Mamata came to be seen as anti-development. The proof came in her opposition to investment proposals, especially from the Salim Group of Indonesia, and to Bhattacharjee’s urbanisation and industrialisation projects.

One of her leading lieutenants, Sougata Roy, came to be associated with such opposition more than other Trinamul Congress leaders. His defeat in Dhakuria could be attributed, at least partly, to the perception that he was a front-runner of the anti-development brigade. There were indications that Bengal was keen to leave its old brand of negative politics behind. But Trinamul failed to see that the politics of street protests had largely become passe even in Bengal.

But then, Mamata failed to see even the most obvious thing about alliance politics. She played around the idea of an impossible “mahajot” of the Congress, Trinamul and the BJP. In the process, she made it difficult for the Congress to strike an alliance with her, as in 2001, and stuck to the BJP, which is virtually non-existent in Bengal and whose fortunes have been dipping at the national level too.

It was not as if the people did not have their grievances against the Left. But Mamata’s confused and capricious politics was not an alternative they would risk.

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