Calcutta, July 1: Bengal today handed another resounding victory to the Opposition, battering the Left Front in the civic elections and extending the trend of the panchayat and parliamentary polls.
The municipal results signal what looks like an irreversible decline ahead of the Assembly polls in the Lefts support in most parts of the state and among a wide cross-section of voters.
The Trinamul Congress and the Congress together won 13 of the 16 municipalities this time, unseating the Left in as many as seven boards.
The Left won only three municipalities — Malbazar and Gangarampur in north Bengal, and Rajarhat-Gopalpur in south Bengal.
Even in the Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad — a three-tier panchayat system — the Congress made its debut by winning three of the seven seats and came close to unseating the Left which has been winning all the slots ever since the council was formed in 1989.
In 2004, the Left had won 10 of the 16 municipalities, the Congress four and Trinamul the lone Egra municipality, that too along with the Congress.
A notable territorial advance for the Opposition was in the Asansol Municipal Corporation of Burdwan, a red bastion. In the Lok Sabha elections, Burdwan was one of the few districts that held on to the Left.
In the Asansol municipal corporation, while Trinamul bagged 18 seats and the Congress 11, the Left got only 20. But in 2004, the Left alone had 39 seats in the 50-member corporation while the Congress had eight and Trinamul three.
Taken along with the panchayat and Lok Sabha polls, the trend in the municipal elections would mean a huge surge of support for the Opposition in villages and towns and among both Hindus and Muslims and the middle class and the poor.
Reacting to the results, Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee said: Now its time for the CPM to quit after taking a lesson from another humiliating poll debacle after the Lok Sabha elections.
However, CPM state secretary and Left Front chairperson Biman Bose said the alliance had no plans to advance the Assembly polls, due in 2011. The civic election outcome mainly reflects the voting trend that emerged during the Lok Sabha elections, he added.
We dont think so, Bose said, responding to the Oppositions demand to advance the Assembly elections.
But transport minister Subhas Chakraborty spoke of a spiralling concern. The results are very bad for the Left Front and I knew this was going to happen. When the downslide for a party begins, it cannot be stopped overnight. Nothing much has happened between the Lok Sabha elections and the municipal polls that will change the trend for the Left Front overnight.
The Left defeat could have been worse if the Congress and Trinamul had not fought each other in some of the civic bodies.
The failure to forge the alliance in one ward cost the Opposition the Malbazar municipality in Jalpaiguri district. In the municipality, while the ruling Left got eight seats, the Opposition bagged seven.
Our combined votes in Ward 8 would have been 478 against the CPMs 530 if there was an understanding between us. We are just 52 short of what the CPM bagged. I believe that unity among us would have brought us these 52 extra votes, said Bireswar Sarkar, the Congress district president of Jalpaiguri.
The two parties failed to reach an electoral understanding in three other municipalities in north Bengal — Kaliaganj, Islampur and Gangarampur. Although an alliance was worked out for a couple of municipalities in south Bengal districts, unofficial contests did take place between the two.
Take the case of the Rajarhat-Gopalpur municipality in North 24-Parganas where the Trinamul nominee and a Congress-backed independent candidate unofficially fought each other to jeopardise the alliances poll prospects.
There is no denying that we had failed to reach a complete poll understanding with Trinamul in some south Bengal municipalities where we had worked out an alliance to meet the demands of our local level leaders. But despite all these odds, the people overwhelmingly voted for the Opposition, said Congress working president Subrata Mukherjee.
The Opposition parties not only swept the elections but managed to reduce the number of seats the Left won even in the two municipalities where it retained hold. In Gangarampur, the Left got only 12 seats this time against 15 in 2004. Similarly, in Rajarhat-Gopalpur, the Left tally is 19 against 21 last time.
This time, the newly formed Dankuni municipality near Singur in Hooghly went to the Opposition with Trinamul bagging 11 and the Congress 1.
In ward 63 of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, where a by-election was held following the death of Ajit Panja, Trinamuls Susmita Bhattacharya won by defeating the CPM nominee by 1,300 votes.