The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Left vs Rest, never mind labels

Calcutta, May 9: Even in Bengal, where the Left supremacy remains unchallenged, no two elections are quite the same. The campaign this time has thrown up some new equations, which, irrespective of the results, may point to trends for the future.

The first of these is the tendency among the non-Left voters to close ranks. Compulsions of national politics make it difficult for the Congress and the BJP to openly come together in Bengal. But the campaign seemed to confirm that politics always remains local. Hence the trend among non-Left voters to choose the strongest challenger of the Left irrespective of the party.

That is why distinct political zones seem to have been created in the state. In Calcutta and its surroundings, the Trinamul Congress remains the major anti-Left force. Congress candidates like Nafisa Ali and Moushumi Chatterjee, therefore, are seen as nothing more than spoilers.

Unlike in previous elections, large sections of Congressmen in this belt seem to have rallied behind Trinamul candidates or even those of the BJP, as in Dum Dum and Krishnagar.

Go beyond Nadia and into Murshidabad and Malda and the pattern changes in favour of the Congress. Pranab Mukherjee in Jangipur, A.B.A. Ghani Khan Choudhury in Malda and Priya Ranjan Das Munshi in Raigunj hope to get large chunks of the Trinamul-BJP votes in their own constituencies. Much the same consolidation of anti-Left “mahajot” seems to have happened in other north Bengal districts.

Because of this pattern, the Opposition vote may actually increase despite a slide in Mamata Banerjee’s popularity. However, that may not necessarily lead to a dramatic increase in the Opposition’s share of seats.

The CPM had a taste of this trend in the panchayat elections last May. CPM leaders decry this “unholy alliance” between the Congress and the Trinamul-BJP combine at local levels, but also admit that this has forced them to confront a new political challenge in Bengal.

But the threat of a growing Opposition umbrella has also helped the Left close ranks. Disunity in Left ranks in the panchayat polls is not new. But both the CPM and its Left Front partners saw red when their dissension cost them the zilla parishads in Malda and Murshidabad.

These elections will show in some measure if the CPM has succeeded in giving a new life to its organisational machine.

The last three elections in the state clearly showed that the Left’s share of votes was on the decline — from 48.17 per cent in 1991 to 46.83 in 1998 and 46.74 in 1999. It seems logical that this would further decline, even if at a slow rate.

One major change has taken place since the 1999 elections — the exit of Jyoti Basu and the entry of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

Bhattacharjee’s new thrust of a happening, development-friendly Bengal has been a pivotal campaign point this time.

This may be an election to decide if A.B. Vajpayee becomes Prime Minister again. But in Bengal, it could also be seen as a vote on Buddhababu’s new Bengal.

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