Calcutta: Even before a single vote has been cast, the panchayat polls in Bengal have entered the record books as 34.2 per cent out of 58,692 seats have gone "uncontested" this time, suggests an analysis of data available with the state election commission.
The phenomenon of "uncontested seats" - which means only one candidate, more often than not from the ruling party of the day, is in the fray - is nothing new in Bengal and it is undeniable that historically the ruling party has always had an upper hand in rural polls in the state.
But a closer look at the data this time throws up startling figures at a time the Opposition has been alleging widespread intimidation.
Overall, the number of uncontested seats has skyrocketed - more than thrice the highest earlier percentage clocked in 2003 when the Left was in power.
"The total percentage of uncontested seats would go up to around 40 per cent if we take into account the dummy candidates fielded by the ruling party and the Trinamul dissidents in the fray. This is an all-time record.... But a trend like this is scary and bad for democracy," said political scientist Biswanath Chakraborty.
Trinamul attributed the stunning outcome to the development agenda of chief minister Mamata Banerjee. "The numbers are high because of Mamata Banerjee's development agenda. Rural Bengal is not willing to do away with the development programme undertaken by the incumbent government," said Trinamul general secretary and urban development minister Firhad Hakim.
The following charts illustrate some of the highlights of the analysis: