A week may be a long time in politics, but electoral graphs take much longer to change dramatically. So the emphatic win of Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress in the panchayat polls in West Bengal does not really come as a surprise. The poll results confirm what was already known — that Ms Banerjee retains much of her popular appeal and that her Marxist rivals continue to be in disarray. Several things in the run-up to the polls and during the polling, however, make it a rather flawed win for her party. The state government’s tussles with the State Election Commission and the Calcutta High Court’s repeated interventions cast a shadow over the polls. About 11 per cent of the total seats in the rural bodies were won uncontested by the ruling party. The candidates for another five per cent were forced out of the campaign even after filing their nominations. The deaths of over 20 political workers in poll-related violence and large-scale intimidation of its opponents by the TMC made it a show of naked force in many parts of the state. None of these is new to polls in Bengal. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) may now try to play the victim. But it was the original sinner in most of the frauds and the use of muscle power during elections. The fact that the same tradition continues shows how little has changed in Bengal.
However, it may be unwise to see the verdict in the rural polls as a precursor to next year’s Lok Sabha elections. The contexts of the two elections are vastly different. It is difficult to predict if urban areas of Bengal would vote in the same manner as the villages did. There have been many signs of the growing disenchantment among the urban middle classes with the way Ms Banerjee has ruled the state for the past two years. The alarming increase in violence against women, the deterioration of law and order and the government’s failure to offer a realistic plan for the state’s economic recovery are some of the things that are increasingly worrying large sections of the people. The mood may not have been reflected in the rural polls, but that may be owing more to the people’s distrust of the CPI(M) than to anything that Ms Banerjee has offered so far. The rural polls have consolidated Ms Banerjee’s, and her party’s, hold over Bengal’s politics. The crucial issue, though, is whether the rural mandate will prompt her to initiate the change she had once promised.