Calcutta, Jan. 2: Rarely is an election victory as much a cause for concern as the Balagarh result must be for the CPM, which retained the Assembly seat today.
Given the public protests over events at Nandigram and other recent issues, a drop in the partys victory margin, compared to that in the last Assembly election, was always on the cards.
But a reduction of nearly 10,000 votes in a constituency that is almost entirely rural — though Balagarh has two big factories — and a Scheduled Caste one shows a strong anti-CPM current in public mood.
Worse still, the CPM has to thank the disunity in the Opposition ranks for its victory in the bypoll. Not a completely united Opposition, but just an alliance between the Trinamul Congress and the BJP, as in the 2006 Assembly polls, would have resulted in the defeat of the CPMs Balagarh candidate, Bhuban Pramanik.
It could be argued, though, that the comparison between the partys performance in 2006 and in this by-election is not statistically fair.
In 2006, the party got 51.85 percent of the votes, while it secured only 45.87 per cent this time.
But the high share of 2006 was more of an exception — the partys average vote share at Balagarh over the last 15 years is around 48 per cent. Interestingly, the only other time the CPM polled lower votes at Balagarh than now was during the Lok Sabha polls in 1998, when its vote share was 45.05 per cent.
But that takes nothing away from the political factors that have led to the erosion of the partys support in Balagarh. This bypoll was the third election since the Nandigram challenge presented itself.
The first was the elections to the Panskura municipality, which the Left lost in the face of a united Opposition. The elections to the civic board at Haldia, next door to Nandigram, saw the CPM successfully meet the challenge.
While the Oppositions disunity was a major reason, the fact that Haldia had benefited from industrialisation was another important factor. The Oppositions attempts to exploit farmers fear of losing their land to industry did not have much of an impact in Haldia, which is now an urban-industrial centre.
The CPM leaders who thought that the protests, especially by intellectuals, over the partys strong-arm methods, and the administrative failures were a media-hyped urban phenomenon were proved wrong in Balagarh.
After the announcement of the Balagarh result, CPM state secretariat member, Shyamal Chakraborty, blamed it on the medias campaign against the party over recent months.
Privately, though, the CPM leaders are relieved that the party had managed to retain the seat in the face of the Nandigram protests. Only the CPM, with its organisational network and discipline, could withstand such an onslaught. Any other party would have been swept away by the campaign, a leader said.
For the Opposition, however, the Balagarh verdict may pose difficult choices. The fact that the BJP got 6.74 per cent of the votes fighting alone cannot be good news either for the Congress or for Mamata Banerjee.
If that prompts Mamata to get closer to the BJP again, such a move will force the Congress to further distance itself from her.
But the CPMs worries after Balagarh could be bigger than any comfort it may try to derive from the Oppositions dilemma.