Winds of political change
Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress inflicted a crushing blow to the ruling Left front in the civic polls on Wednesday, capturing the prestigious Kolkata Municipal Corporation and bagging 36 other municipalities in the "semi-finals" ahead of next year's assembly elections.
Riding the winds of political change and improving on its performance in the Lok Sabha polls and subsequent by-elections, the Trinamool Congress also humbled ally Congress in its victory march.
The Trinamool, which had lost the KMC to the Left Front in 2005, swept the 141-ward city corporation, winning 95 with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) following far behind at 33, the Congress securing 10 and the Bharatiya Janata Party just three.
Among the 81 civic bodies spread across 16 of 19 districts for which elections were held on Sunday, the Trinamool Congress won 36, the Left Front 18 and the Congress six. Besides this, the TC and Congress won in 17 municipalities, including in Memari, Daihat, Kalna, where there was unofficial understanding between the two parties.
Photo: Dipak Chakraborty
Image: Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee and party leaders celebrate their victory
Left hangs on to hope
Elections to four of the civic bodies in Bongaon, Taki Mathabhanga and Kanchrapara led to hung boards. The Left Front had been in power in 55 civic bodies Trinamool in eight and Congress in 11 prior to the elections.
The Trinamool also wrested the Bidhannagar (Salt Lake) municipality after a gap of 15 years. Buoyed by the remarkable showing of her party, Banerjee demanded immediate assembly elections, saying that the CPI(M) has lost all right to continue in power.
Chief Minister Buddadeb Bhattacharjee refused to take questions from the media on the Left Front's poor showing.
In a tongue-and-cheek remark aimed at the railway minister, senior CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury said, "Let us hope now that the municipalities in Bengal will be run better than the Indian Railways"."We accept the people's verdict in the civic elections. But we would also point out that our vote percentage has shown marginal improvement of over four percent than the last Lok Sabha elections".
Image: Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee addressesa press conference on Wednesday
Mamata humbles Congress
The civic elections were also a prestige fight between Banerjee, the railway minister, and Union finance minister and West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee chief Pranab Mukherjee after the two sides failed to clinch a seat-sharing deal in the KMC.
It was also to judge the Trinamool's own strength sans the Congress prior to next year's assembly elections.
In Delhi, Mukherjee congratulated Banerjee for her excellent performance and accepted the failure of the Congress in not coming up to expectations.
"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.For the Left Front it was equally a test to ascertain whether it had gained from the Trinamool and Congress going separate ways in the civic elections.
Image: Trinamool supporters celebrate the win in civic polls
Didi wants assembly polls now
Banerjee, who flew in from Delhi on Wednesday morning, said the transformation was taking place in the state where nothing was achieved in the last 34 years of Left rule. Stating that she was not demanding imposition of President's Rule under Article 356, Banerjee said, "Elections can be held within six months. The Election Commission can do it.""The CPI(M) has lost all right to continue in power in the state. Assembly elections should be held immediately." Asked about alliance with the Congress for the assembly elections, she said, "I can't say anything about tomorrow. I am not a political astrologer. I am always open for alliance. I am in favour of a mahajote (grand alliance). Let us see what happens."
Image: A Trinamool supporter in Kolkata
'People wanted change'
The CPI(M), which is leading the Left Front, admitted the results were a setback but claimed that the trend of the 2009 Lok Sabha elections has not been reversed but certainly arrested. "But a lot more has to be done to get to the winning path," politburo member Sitaram Yechury said. The downslide for the Left Front began from the May 2008 panchayat elections followed by decimation in the Lok Sabha elections last year and a string of assembly by-elections that followed.
West Bengal minister and CPI(M) politburo member Nirupam Sen today said, "The results were somewhat expected. But only after getting the detailed results can one say the percentage of votes we have lost."Admitting that a section of supporters had turned away from the Left parties, Sen said that there was an anti-Left wave during the civic polls this time. "May be, people have voted for a change."
Image: A woman supporter holds a Trinamool flag