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'The people of Bengal were desperate for change'

By Indrani Roy Mitra
Last updated on: June 03, 2010 09:34 IST
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Red was swept away by green as the Trinamool Congress won the 141-ward Kolkata Municipal Corporation polls, delivering a crushing and decisive blow to the ruling Left Front.

The TMC beat exit polls predictions of various organisations and regional media and won 95 wards in Kolkata alone.

In the 2005 election when the municipality had 23 wards, the Left Front had won in 18 and TMC in five.

"It's a victory against the 32-year oppression by the Left Front in Bengal," said thespian and TMC loyalist Bratya Basu.

Basu is one of the intellectuals who raked up a controversy by openly asking people to vote for TMC after its alliance with the Congress broke.

However, Basu was all smiles on Wednesday. "I stood by Mamatadi right from the beginning as I saw in her a force for change. No healthy democracy should permit a party to rule for three decades."

"Bengal suffered from a lack of a second political option. She instilled a new hope in us," he added.

According to economist Abhirup Sarkar, "It's a great achievement for the Trinamool Congress. Winning 95 wards is a no mean feat," he said.

Analysing this extraordinary win, Sarkar told, "Post Singur and Nandigram, the Left Front did not take any positive step in the state. They were cautiously inert and in a way, ineffective.

"The controversial land acquisition policy which translated into a huge poll debacle for the Left Front in the 2009 Lok Sabha election never figured in any Front campaign thereafter.

"It became an issue of the past and the Left Front stayed away from taking any development or industry-related step henceforth. Though the Front's attempt was to mend the damage they had caused, their stance alienated them further from the people.

"The electorate decided to wring in a change -- a brand new option that could offer something different," said Sarkar.

Talking about the breaking of the Congress and Trinamool alliance in the civic polls, Sarkar said, "I was certain that an alliance would not affect people's verdict. The people of Bengal had been seething with discontent. They were desperate for a change, come what may."

According to Sarkar, the most striking win for Congress has been that of Mala Roy from Ward no 88. "It is a prestige victory for Congress as TMC chief Mamata Banerjee herself had campaigned rigorously for her candidate Anup Chatterjee.

There's a saying that Roy, wife of Congress leader Nirbed Roy, cannot lose a Kolkata Municipal Corporation election.

She won the last three elections in the same ward representing three parties.

And as for the most significant losses, Sarkar opined, "None could predict that TMC candidates Rukbanur Rahman (brother of Rizwanur) and Javed Khan would lose. But then a poll is all about surprises.

"TMC should take Rukbanur's loss with a note of caution. The people of Bengal sent out a clear signal there -- try to gain political mileage out of a civil society movement, you lose."

Kamal Sikder, a former journalist and entrepreneur, endorses Sarkar's views. "Bengal was gasping under the age-old Left Front dictum. It needed some fresh air. No one is saying the TMC is the best option for change. But it did raise some hope. How long can one put up with exploitation?

"Also, the Lok Sabha election results had paved the way for this change. It was from June last year that people started believing 'yes we can'. Their belief turned into conviction today," he added.

To civilian and writer Nandini Roy, "This change in trend throws up a plethora of opportunities for the people of Bengal. Hopefully this swing will bring TMC to power in the state in 2011 and will grant us a chance to gauge the worth of the Left Front and the TMC.

"I am not too fond of the TMC. But even then I feel at the moment it is the only viable alternative to the Left. Let's see what it can achieve as a new political hope in Bengal".

Writer and social activist Mahasweta Devi was quite excited over Trinamool's victory in the civic polls. Recuperating from a brief illness, the writer said, "We may not agree with all the views of the TMC, but there is no denying the fact that Mamata (Banerjee) made it happen in Bengal.

"After decades, Bengal is ushering in a change. Time will decide whether it is for the better or worse but at the moment, a change is what we need the most.

"Now that the people have raised their voices, they would not tolerate more misrule for long. Any new party that comes to power has to deliver the goods. Otherwise it would also have to go."

Many political analysts in Bengal are of the opinion that the Left Front should now move aside and let assembly election be advanced.

"That will be the fittest gesture for the losing Front at the moment," said Bratya Basu.

However, CPI-M leader Mohammed Salim refused to give in to Basu's suggestion and said, in a rather defiant tone, "We must analyse this defeat and learn from our mistakes. Losing is a part of democratic process and we must take it in our stride."

Amid the din of TMC celebrations, West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee kept mum on civic poll results and refused to take questions on the issue.

Asked if the results of the civic poll, widely seen as a trend-setter for next year's Assembly election, were on expected lines, Bhattacharjee evaded any reply and left the state secretariat in a huff.

The CPI-M headquarters on Alimuddin Street also wore a deserted look.

In contrast, there was an air of jubilation in front of Banerjee's Kalighat residence with party workers celebrating the massive victory. Overjoyed Trinamool workers took out small victory processions in some parts of Kolkata.

Congratulating Banerjee on her party's performance, Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who is also the West Bengal Congress chief, said he accepted the people's verdict.

Mukherjee, speaking to reporters in New Delhi, said till the final results were out, it would be difficult for him to assess the "net loss or net gain" of the Congress, but said his party had lost some and gained some municipalities out of the 14 it held earlier.

"First of all, I would like to congratulate Mamata Banerjee for her excellent performance both in Kolkata and also in the districts. I accept the failure of the Congress to perform up to the expectations which we had. I accept the verdict of the people with all humility," he said.

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Indrani Roy Mitra in Kolkata