Voices Friday, May 01, 2015 - 05:30
Ananda Dasgupta Exactly 48 hours before the civic poll results were to be announced on Tuesday, the opposition in West Bengal called for a 12-hour bandh to protest the violence unleashed by the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the irregularities in the conduct of the elections. The civic poll, across 92 municipalities and corporations, showed Mamata Banerjee’s TMC has not only retained its dominant position but has also dashed BJP’s hopes of emerging as the principal opposition. Rather, it has given the Left a new lease of life with a victory in north Bengal, which will not only boost the party’s morale but will also put a brake on its dwindling support base. While TMC won 114 seats out of 144 wards in Kolkata Municipal Corporation, the Left got only 15, BJP seven and Congress just five. In the rest of the civic bodies, TMC alone mopped up 70 out of 91 that went to the polls. "The reality, however, is that the public didn’t want to take a risk as the ruling party and the opposition had drawn battle lines over the bandh." For the opposition, the results were on expected lines. On the day of the poll, the opposition had called the election a “murder of democracy” alleging large-scale rigging and booth capturing by TMC. The State Election Commission was accused of failing to conduct a free and fair poll. The police had allegedly given TMC goons a free hand to “loot votes”. The opposition candidates were allegedly intimidated and political violence escalated in the run up to the elections. But the opposition’s shortcoming was that it failed to transform a section of the people’s anti-TMC mood into electoral success.  Despite the poor performance, the opposition was adamant on making the bandh a success. While the Left combined the bandh with a transport strike called by the trade unions (against Road Safety Bill), the BJP clung on to common causes.  West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee declared war against the bandh call, in a sense, by a “united opposition”. The police were asked to campaign against it. Government employees were asked to attend office or face dire consequences, like salary cut. Universities, which had postponed their exams, were forced to reverse their decision. On top of it, TMC cadres were asked to man the streets and foil all attempts at paralyzing normal life.  At the end of the day, all the parties looked smug. Yes, a good number of private and public transport vehicles were plying to ferry the scant passengers. In certain parts of the city, markets opened in the morning. Metro and the rail services remained normal. University exams were held according to schedule. However, people still didn’t venture out as on a normal day (case in point were Sealdah and Howrah railway stations). Most shops and private offices remained closed. The reality, however, is that the public didn’t want to take a risk as the ruling party and the opposition had drawn battle lines over the bandh.  The most significant part was that despite the defeat, both Left and BJP cadres took to the streets in support of the bandh. They not only fought the police but also TMC cadres. Clashes between TMC and BJP/Left cadres broke out in different parts of the state. Top Left and BJP leaders also hit the streets. They had to prove a point. They wanted to keep the issue of poll-violence alive and give the necessary boost to their cadres who held the fort or failed to hold it in the face of the attack by the ruling party. They were successful in doing so within 48 hours after the TMC swept the elections. At the end of the day, what we can safely concur is that Mamata may show her might, but the opposition cannot be written off completely. It’s a long drawn out battle. The assembly election in the state is scheduled to be held next year. Mamata has won the “semifinal match”. We will have to wait and watch if the opposition can put up a good fight against Mamata in the “finals” next year.