Haldia, July 25: Haldia voted as if Nandigram had never happened.
Neither Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s industrialisation drive nor Mamata Banerjee’s battle against it seemed to sway the voters enough to change their known voting behaviour. They voted almost the same way they did in 1997 or, for that matter, in other elections in the area.
The Opposition’s victory in seven of the 26 seats is thus not very different from what it had achieved in the last real contest at Haldia in 1997. That time, the united Congress had won five seats. It could have been 18 for the Left and six for the Opposition but for a tied result, which went to the Left after the toss.
In 2002, when the Left took all the 25 seats (one added to the previous number of municipal wards), there was no real contest as the Opposition gave a last-minute boycott call in many of the wards.
The CPM, however, reacted predictably. It was a victory for industrialisation, Left Front chairman Biman Bose said in Calcutta. The electoral trends in and around Haldia in the Assembly and the Lok Sabha over the past 10 years do not support this claim.
The Trinamul Congress on its part sought to claim victory from defeat. According to the party, the rural areas, where the Opposition got all but one seat, voted in protest against the government move to take away farmland for industry.
The results this time show no such thing. The Opposition had done relatively better in these areas even in the Lok Sabha polls in 2004 and Assembly elections in 2006.
The Left’s vote has shown a declining trend in earlier elections, too. The Left got 56.59 per cent of the votes this time against 58.01 per cent in 2004 Lok Sabha polls. In the 2006 Assembly polls, it had secured 60.81 per cent.
But the small ups and downs had little to with industrialisation or the campaign against it, which came much later.
The state government is happy with the result but not euphoric. “It will be better for the state if the Opposition learns a lesson from this outcome. Otherwise, we will have to move ahead despite their opposition. Nevertheless, we will continue to seek political consensus on industrial projects, including the proposed chemical hub,” said Nirupam Sen, the industries minister.
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today congratulated the people of Haldia and described the poll results as the “people’s verdict”.
By most accounts, today’s results show that there has not been much of a change in the voting preference if they are compared with that of the 1997 municipal polls.
Five wards the Left lost — 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6 — form part of an 8km stretch from Durgachak to Sutahata while the other two — 15 and 16 — are in Brajalalchak. In the event of a chemical hub coming up in Haldia, there is a possibility that most of the land will be acquired from these rural areas.
Subhendu Adhikary, Trinamul MLA and one of the party’s chief poll managers in Haldia, attributed the party’s victory in the six rural wards to the people’s verdict against setting up of industry on farmland. “The people have voted against the government’s decision to acquire agricultural land for industry,” Adhikary said.
Haldia strongman Lakshman Seth, however, said the people voted in favour of industrialisation. “The people of Haldia have voted in favour of industrialisation and development,” Seth said.
Seth, who was blamed by a section of the party, including the chief minister, for the Nandigram violence, is likely to get a fresh lease of importance after the Haldia results.
Conceding that the Left fared poorly in the rural belt, Seth said: “In these areas, the people are yet to feel the benefits of industrialisation.”
At Panskura, where the Opposition wrested the municipal board last month, too, the Nandigram theory had not worked. The CPM had suffered defeat mainly because of internal feud.
The Trinamul leadership in Calcutta described the results as the “victory of evil forces’’. But Mamata Banerjee, who had hailed the Opposition victory in the Panskura civic polls last month as the people’s verdict on forced land acquisition and Nandigram police firing, kept silent today.