Arpita Ghosh who won the Balurghat Lok Sabha seat for the Trinamul Congress shows the victory sign at the counting centre in Balurghat College on Friday. Picture by Mithun Roy
May 16: So far, it had a grip on south Bengal only. Now, the Trinamul Congress has firmed up its presence in north Bengal as well.
Today, Trinamul decimated the Left in north Bengal, a region traditionally considered the strongholds of the Left and the Congress. Mamata Banerjee’s party wrested four Lok Sabha seats from the CPM, RSP and the Forward Bloc. This is the first time that Trinamul has been able to win any Lok Sabha seat in the region.
The Left’s only consolation was a solitary, and narrow, victory in Raiganj. In sharp contrast to the Left, the Congress managed to retain its bastion Malda by winning both the seats in the district.
The only regret for Trinamul, as far as north Bengal is concerned, may lie in the fact that the party failed to make much headway in Darjeeling where it had put up former India soccer captain Bhaichung Bhutia against the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha-supported BJP candidate S.S. Ahluwalia.
But whatever disappointment Trinamul may have on this score has been made up for by the party’s victories in Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri, held by the Forward Bloc and the CPM, respectively, and Alipurduar and Balurghat, which were with the RSP.
“Consistent efforts by our chief minister Mamata Banerjee to improve the socio-economic condition of tribals has helped us get massive support from voters in the Alipurduar and Jalpaiguri constituencies,” said north Bengal development minister Gautam Deb. “As for Cooch Behar and Balurghat, we were confident of winning these seats as the Left has long been rejected here.”
However, the Trinamul leader added that the reasons for the party’s defeat in Darjeeling would be analysed by the party.
Trinamul leaders attributed the party’s success in north Bengal to Mamata’s “constant efforts” to “cultivate” the region ever since she became the railway minister in 2009.
“Didi has been visiting this region regularly ever since she became the railway minister in 2009. She has announced schemes for the region and made efforts to develop north Bengal in the last five years. Trinamul’s popularity in north Bengal has not grown overnight,” said a Trinamul leader.
Several Trinamul leaders pointed out that Mamata had assiduously built up her base among the tribals and the tea workers who dominate several parts of the region.
“One of the first things that Mamata Banerjee did on becoming the chief minister was to get a wage hike of Rs 18 for tea garden workers in the Dooars and the Terai. That was a lot of money for the neglected tea workers,” the Trinamul leader said.
Trinamul also pointed to measures like the establishment of the tribal development council, launch of ration shops in closed tea gardens and the opening of a Hindi-medium college as the reasons for Trinamul’s popularity in the region.
“It is for these reasons that Trinamul has won the Alipurduar and the Jalpaiguri seats,” the Trinamul leader said. “The tea garden labourers and the tribals play a vital role in deciding who wins the elections in these two seats.”
Trinamul has been making inroads into Cooch Behar and South Dinajpur districts also in the past few years. Last year, the party bagged the zilla parishads in South Dinajpur and Cooch Behar as well as the Balurghat municipality. “After the victory in the rural and civic elections, winning the Balurghat and Cooch Behar Lok Sabha seats was just a formality,” the Trinamul leader said.
For the Left, the toughest pill to swallow is, perhaps, the defeat in Jalpaiguri, a district where it won the zilla parishad elections last year.
“We have to analyse why we were routed in these four seats, especially in Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar. The defeat has come after we retained the Jalpaiguri zilla parishad as recently as last year. This is the time for introspection and to find out if CPM votes had shifted to the BJP,” said Krishna Banerjee, the Jalpaiguri district chairman of the Left Front.
Banerjee pointed out that in 2009, the BJP had polled 21 per cent of votes in Alipurduar, but this time the figure was as high as 27 per cent. CPM leaders had said in 2009 that 30 per cent of people in Alipurduar were Nepalis and they might have voted for the BJP because of its alliance with the Morcha. “But this time, the vote share of the BJP is higher. The increased votes must be from our share since Trinamul has not been affected,” said a CPM leader.
But the CPM takes solace in the fact that its leader Mohammed Salim managed to win the Raiganj seat, even if by a narrow margin, and see in it a “face saver”. “If we had not won Raiganj, we would have been completely wiped out in north Bengal,” a CPM leader conceded.
“A section of votes has gone to the BJP,” conceded Raiganj’s Congress candidate Deepa Das Munshi.
Congress leaders noted that when Deepa had won from Raiganj in 2009, there was an electoral alliance with Trinamul.
“This time, there has been no tie-up between the Congress and Trinamul. So, a large chunk of votes Deepa had got in 2009 went to Trinamul this time,” said a Congress leader.