Winning Becomes A Tired Habit
JYOTI Basu and his comrades have done it again. But the Left Front's joy in sweeping to power for the fifth time in a row has been somewhat marred by the Congress, which has posted its best ever performance since 1977. Of the 294 assembly seats in West Bengal—the Congress won more than 50. A feat that led PCC chief Somen Mitra to comment: "I feel satisfied but the tally would have been higher if we didn't have to put up with rifts on election eve." An obvious reference to Mamata Banerjee's melodrama about the lack of value-based politics and her threat to withdraw from the fray. While Mamata won by a large margin, the candidates—who she claimed had criminal links—also romped home.
In the Left Front camp, the mood is one of introspection. Says CPI(M) spokesman Anil Biswas: "We have lost more seats than expected. We shall have to analyse the results very carefully indeed." The Congress wind knocked off several prominent sitting ruling party MLAs and at least six ministers, four from the CPI(M).
A slew of reasons are being offered for the Left Front's not-so-emphatic victory. The Muslims, particularly in the central Bengal districts of Malda and Murshidabad, deserted the Marxists this time, apparently due to lack of employment opportunities and overall neglect. So did the industrial workers of Hooghly, 24-Parganas and Howrah (most of the jute mills and other factories are either closed or under lock-out); and the middle classes in Calcutta (reeling under poor civic amenities). Surprisingly, the ruling Front also lost a considerable share of the vote percentage in its rural bastion of Burdwan, where a section of peasants decided to go against the party allegedly due to its biased approach towards people who are not pro-Left. Also, the CPI(M)'s decision to drop 67 sitting MLAs to help the party acquire a new face did not pay off. What saved the day for the ruling Front and its mainstay, the CPI(M), were the relatively backward districts of Purulia, Bankura and Midnapore. And, of course, the persistent infighting in the Congress camp which failed to organise its act in time to pose a veritable challenge to the ruling party. The BJP also fared badly, barring a couple of border districts.
Chief Minister Basu did foresee the chinks in the Left campaign when he told the Press days before polling: "At times, we haven't been able to reach the people." Basu himself won his Satgachhia seat by only 11,000 votes despite the fact that, at his campaign meetings, he would often exhort the people to increase his winning margin. Says an observer: "Basu had nothing, almost nothing new to tell the people. He attacked the Congress and the BJP but had nothing to offer West Bengal, leave alone his constituency. Listening to some of his speeches, I felt he was really a very tired person from whom, with all due respect, nothing new could be expected." A PCC spokesman summed up the Left Front's performance thus: "It does look as though time is catching up with the Left. I remember them saying the same thing after the civic poll results—'we will have to analyse the results'."