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CPM arrests poll bleeding, not tide
5 per cent jump after steady slide

Calcutta, June 5: The CPM today managed to arrest its poll haemorrhage with the Howrah Lok Sabha by-election even though the party lost by around 27,000 votes.

The Howrah result may bring some relief to the beleaguered CPM, which has seen its vote share slide in successive elections since the 2008 panchayat polls. The percentage of anti-Left votes has not changed much, though.

The CPM today registered a jump of around 5 per cent in its vote share in the parliamentary bypoll vis-à-vis the 2011 Assembly election figure in Howrah. In the Assembly polls, the party had polled around 37 per cent votes. Today, it secured around 42 per cent votes, an increase that has raised Alimuddin Street’s expectations of a clawback.

Asked whether the party was happy with the increase in vote share, CPM state secretariat member Mohammad Salim said: “It’s not a question of being happy or unhappy. The Howrah results have put a pause on Trinamul’s advances and our successive slide. We will try to consolidate on that.”

In the 2008 panchayat polls, the Opposition had snatched nearly half of the 41,000-odd gram panchayat seats from the Left. The Left had also lost four of the 17 zilla parishads.

The debacle continued with the Left losing as many as 20 parliamentary seats in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.

The worst and the most humiliating Left defeat came in the 2011 Assembly elections, with the combine getting a little over 40 per cent of the vote share.

Another factor from which the Left could draw comfort is the combine’s improved performance compared with the Assembly bypolls in Birbhum’s Nalhati, Murshidabad’s Rejinagar and Malda’s Englishbazar four months ago.

In the February bypolls, the Left lost both Rejinagar and Englishbazar, with its vote percentage falling by 11 and 12 per cent, respectively. The combine won Nalhati because of a vote split between Trinamul and the Congress, but its poll percentage fell by more than 6 per cent.

“That way, the Howrah result is indeed an achievement for us,” said RSP leader Monoj Bhattacharyya.

The CPM’s Srideep Bhattacharya today secured a lead in two Assembly segments — South Howrah and Sankrail. But even though the CPM’s vote share increased in comparison with the 2011 Assembly polls, the party has fallen short of the nearly 44 per cent registered by the Left candidate in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee today mocked the vote-share jump registered by the CPM in Howrah. Trinamul sources, however, said that this morning, the chief minister received reports from party leaders that the CPM’s rise in vote percentage was mainly because of a section of the electorate’s disenchantment with her government and party in the aftermath of the Saradha default crisis.

Many of these “floating voters” had overwhelmingly supported Mamata in the 2011 Assembly elections as they wanted a change of guard at Writers’. But this time, they backed the CPM because of regular reports in the media about the perceived closeness of some Trinamul ministers and leaders with the Saradha Group, the sources said.

Asked about this, a CPM leader said: “We can’t officially admit that the Saradha issue helped us in the Howrah bypoll. That would be too harsh on those who were cheated by the group. But the reality is that a section of floating urban voters this time supported us because of the default crisis.”

The leader added that Mamata’s “unpopular actions, inconsistency and false claims” also contributed to the CPM’s vote-share rise.

However, the fact that the Congress and Trinamul did not fight the polls together also helped the CPM. The lack of an alliance denied Trinamul a major chunk of anti-CPM votes in Howrah as the Congress got around 96,000 votes.

Statistics show that in the 2011 Assembly elections, when Trinamul and the Congress had fought together, the CPM got 37 per cent votes on average in all the Assembly constituencies of Howrah. In the bypoll this time, its vote share rose because the Congress is no longer Trinamul’s partner.