Calcutta, May 13: The Left Front tonight appeared set to secure another five year-mandate to rule rural Bengal but underdog Congress showed signs of resurgence in the epicentre of violence during the elections.
The principal Opposition, the Trinamul Congress, cut a sorry figure. Mamata Banerjee’s party was wiped out from Howrah, Hooghly and Bankura.
Framed against the first pause in the past several weeks’ unprecedented violence, the CPM and its allies swept almost all the zilla parishads and began to pocket the panchayat samitys and gram panchayats, the results of which were tallied during the day.
“They (the Opposition) unleashed terror to prevent us from returning to power in the panchayats but failed because people are with us,” chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said on his return from Delhi.
But the Left tasted success not before conceding surprise ground to the Congress which is making gains in several key districts, especially in Murshidabad, which recorded the maximum number of deaths, and Malda. In Birbhum and North 24-Parganas, too, the Congress has made some headway.
“We have done badly in the two districts. There is no point glossing over it,” said state CPM secretary Anil Biswas.“We will have to go for a post-mortem of the results.”
Echoing him was Biman Bose, CPM politburo member and Left Front chairman. “Our overall performance is good, but the two districts sprang a surprise.”
For the first time in 26 years, the CPM and its allies had to watch the zilla parishads of Muslim-dominated Murshidabad and Malda go into the Opposition fold.
“Our performance is a vindication of our stand that only a successful organisation, and nothing else, can counter the communists,” said former state Congress president Somen Mitra in a dig at Mamata.
Trinamul’s tally in south Bengal has plunged to 11 zilla parishads from 52 in 1998. In North 24-Parganas, the party bagged two seats against the 10 in 1998. In South 24-Parganas, Trinamul’s share dipped to two from eight.
In Murshidabad, where 18 people have been killed since the election day, the Congress put its signature as it annexed 33 out of 60 seats, paving the way for new configurations in the days ahead. In 1998, the Congress had to be content with eight seats.
The face of the Congress resistance in Murshidabad was MP Adhir Chowdhury, who countered the CPM’s strong-arm tactics with his own, in addition to the effective co-opting of other anti-CPM forces, including front ally RSP. A large section of the RSP, which had once lorded over the district, reportedly joined forces with Chowdhury, as did a section of the CPM dissidents.
“I do not want victory rallies in the district,” said Chowdhury. “So many lives were lost, the entire district is in mourning. It is not time for celebrations.”
In Malda, there was jubilation in the district Congress office as the party mopped up 15 out of 33 seats, up from the 1998 tally of seven.
The Congress was more smug as its achievement came about without the benefit of its father figure, A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury, now recuperating from a broken hip. But his supporters claimed that the magic of his name did the trick.
However, to form the zilla parishad board, the Congress will have to join forces with Trinamul and the BJP, its bete noire, which have won one seat each.
Till late evening, Congress leaders Pranab Mukherjee and Mitra were unable to offer a clue as to how the deadlock in the Malda zilla parishad would be handled.