By Sirshendu Panth
Kolkata (IANS): Singed by Muslim anger and mauled by peasants’ rage, the Left citadel in West Bengal gave way in these Lok Sabha elections, unable to withstand the determined onslaught of an opposition alliance stitched by Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee.
The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)-led Left Front (LF), which has been at the state’s helm for 32 uninterrupted years, seems to have fallen casualty to the anti-incumbency factor, with people developing a strong distaste for the ruling combine’s poor show in areas like health, and also due to the arrogance and changed lifestyle of the lower level party functionaries.
But more than anything, it was the Mamata Banerjee factor.
Berated in the past for her immature and whimsical ways, the Trinamool chief displayed cool calculation as she broke ranks with the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to join forces with the Congress with an eye on the sizeable Muslim votes.
The Muslims, comprising around 23 percent of the state’s population, were cut up with their one-time favourite LF after the Rajinder Sachar Committee report brought to the fore their gross under-representation in state government jobs and the general backwardness of the community.
In addition, the violence in East Midnapore’s Nandigram - where Muslims are in a majority - and Trinamool’s sustained campaign that the government was planning to acquire large tracts of agricultural land across the state, also swayed the community. The Muslims in the state mostly draw their daily sustenance from small landholdings.
The mystery behind the Rizwanur Rahman death, where the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government dilly-dallied in taking action against police officials accused of forcing the Muslim computer graphics teacher to separate from his Hindu wife, only increased the anger in the community.
Trinamool’s tie-up with the Congress helped in consolidating the Muslim vote in favour of the combine.
The surprising poll debacle at the Marxist stronghold of Uluberia in the neighbouring Howrah district is a case in point. The constituency with a 40 percent Muslim population had always been with the CPI-M since 1977. But with the votes of the Congress as well as the Trinamool supporters, Sultan Ahmed of the Trinamool Congress beat eight-time MP Hannan Mollah.
The defeat of the CPI-M’s minority face, Mohammed Salim, from Kolkata North with a 16-20 percent Muslim population and the opposition’s sweep in the Muslim-dominated belt of Murshidabad are other indicators. In Malda district, the influence of the Congress leader, the late A.B.A. Ghani Khan Choudhury, continued.
Singur and Nandigram, which have now almost become symbols of peasant movements against land acquisition for industries, were also contributory factors in galvanising the rural peasantry to ditch the LF, thereby affecting its rural vote bank in large parts of the state.
That the CPI-M’s campaign blaming Banerjee for Tata Motors’ Nano plant moving out of the state did not cut much ice with the electorate is evident from the 22,000-plus lead taken by the Trinamool candidate from the Singur assembly segment, which falls under Hooghly parliamentary constituency.
In the five districts - Kolkata and its adjoining South 24 Parganas, North 24 Parganas, Hooghly and Howrah - the LF was annihilated in 16 seats due to the coupling of the Muslim-peasant factors.
The consolidation of the Congress-Trinamool votes also gave the arithmetical advantage to the opposition and helped it pick up seats in several constituencies, particularly in Nadia and Birbhum districts, and even in South 24 Parganas and Kolkata.
The alliance also got the votes of the middle classes, especially in Kolkata, who wanted a stable government at the centre.
But for its impressive showing in the western belt of Birbhum, West Midnapore and Bankura as also in Burdwan, the LF would have been virtually wiped out from the state.
The BJP, which won the Darjeeling seat, torpedoed the Trinamool’s chances in two constituencies, Alipurduar and Burdwan (East).
The Trinamool-Congress alliance got 26 seats of the state’s 42 seats, while the Left got 15, its lowest since 1977.