A bastion stormed

Published : Jun 03, 2011 00:00 IST

The Trinamool Congress-led alliance scores a historic victory in West Bengal to end 34 years of Left Front rule.

IN what turned out to be a historic Assembly election in West Bengal, the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front was swept out of power after a record seven consecutive terms in office by an alliance led by the Trinamool Congress and comprising the Congress and the Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI). Of the 294 seats, the Trinamool Congress alliance won 227 and the Left Front only 62. Five seats went to others.

Riding a wave of anti-incumbency sentiment, Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress won 184 seats (contested: 227). The Congress won 42 (contested: 65) and the SUCI one (contested: two). The CPI(M) could win only 40 seats, as against 176 in 2006. Of the 34 Ministers who contested, 26 lost, including Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Industries Minister and CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Nirupam Sen, Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta, Housing Minister Gautam Deb, Municipal Affairs Minister and party strongman from North Bengal Ashok Bhattacharya, and Information Technology Minister Debesh Das.

Dedicating her victory to Ma, Maati, Manush (Mother, Earth and Humanity, the Trinamool Congress' slogan) Mamata Banerjee said: People have been waiting for 35 years for this. It is like a freedom struggle. It is the people who are the winners here. Mamata herself did not contest in the elections, choosing instead to make a delayed entry into the Assembly once her party came to power.

As the trend became clear by the afternoon of May 13, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Biman Bose, CPI(M) State secretary and Left Front chairman, sent a joint statement to the press. It said: The Left Front has humbly accepted the verdict of the people and will play the role of a constructive Opposition and continue to strive to protect the rights of the people.

Later in the day, Biman Bose, addressing a press conference, said: We did not expect this kind of a result. Until the day before the result, the Left Front was hopeful that it would be able to form the government, albeit with a greatly reduced majority. However, its progressive electoral decline in the past three elections had indicated otherwise. Though the enormity of the defeat may have come as a shock to many, the defeat itself was not unexpected, except perhaps to certain sections of the Left.

Since the 2008 panchayat elections the Left has rapidly lost ground to the Trinamool Congress, while its vote share has declined since the 2006 Assembly elections. According to CPI(M) sources, it dropped from 50.18 per cent in 2006 to 43.3 per cent in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, and preliminary estimates show it to be below 37 per cent in 2011.

On the other hand, the Trinamool Congress' political resurgence, through its violent agitations over land acquisition in Singur (2006) and Nandigram (2007) and its alliance with the Congress, led to an increase in its vote share from 45.96 per cent in 2009 to over 53 per cent in 2011.

The 2009 general elections also made it clear that it would be an uphill task for the Left Front in the Assembly election, given the fact that it could win only 15 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the State, as against 35 it won in 2004. A miserable performance by the Left Front in the municipal elections the following year, in which the Congress and the Trinamool Congress were not in alliance, indicated a further weakening of its position.

Another factor for the Left's loss has been its inability to win back its minority vote base, which has eroded over the years. The three main reasons cited for the Muslim voter's disenchantment with the Left Front government are: The land acquisition drive to set up industries; the revelation in the Sachar Committee report that the lot of Muslims in the State leaves much to be desired; and the mysterious death of Rizwanur Rahman, a computer graphics teacher, in Kolkata, which caused a huge public outcry and culminated in the transfer of top police officers.

The 2011 results put paid to the Left's insistence, all through the election process, that through intense personal contact with the masses at the grass-root level it had managed to retrieve most of the ground lost to the opposition. In fact, the Left has lost further ground, with its bastions in Bardhaman, Birbhum, Bankura, Purulia and Pashchim Medinipur broken. In Bardhaman the Trinamool Congress-led alliance won 16 of the 25 seats; in Birbhum eight out of 11; in Bankura nine out of 12; in Purulia seven out of nine; and in Pashchim Medinipur 10 out of 19. These districts were red citadels that no anti-incumbency wave, however strong, could penetrate for the past 34 years.

The desire for paribartan (change), Mamata's clarion call, was strong in Kolkata, too; the Left Front drew a blank in the 11 seats in the State capital. It could not win a single seat in the districts of Darjeeling, Purbo Medinipur and Howrah either. It was a wave that just overwhelmed us completely. There was really nothing we could do about it. We can now only introspect and rectify, a CPI(M) source said. The Left's attempt to ward off this wind of change by fielding 151 new faces failed, as only 27 of them managed to win.

The failure of the Left Front to gauge properly the ground situation is indicative of the growing disconnect between the leadership on Alimuddin Street and the cadre. Clearly, our leaders have not been receiving the right information from the districts and villages. Our situation turned out to be far worse than we could even dream of, a CPI(M) district leader said.

When the election results became clear by the afternoon of May 13, parts of Kolkata literally turned green (the Trinamool Congress' official colour) as thousands took to the streets with green abir (powder) all over them. The milling crowd outside Mamata Banerjee's house on a narrow lane in Kalighat spilled over to the main road. People came in waves, blowing conches and clanging bells, distributing sweets to announce the Trinamool Congress' victory, and eager to catch a glimpse of Didi. Mamata kept emerging from her house to acknowledge their cheers. It is hot. Go home now, she repeatedly told the crowd.

On the streets, Trinamool Congress supporters showed remarkable restraint on Mamata's specific instruction and kept the celebrations within reasonable limits of sound and exuberance. They would gently apply the colour on passersby only if they were permitted, otherwise they kept the greetings to a simple handshake or a friendly pat.

The CPI(M) State headquarters on Alimuddin Street had an air of defeat. The red abir, the motorbike processions, the exultant crowd that one was so used to seeing outside the party office after every election were all absent. Instead, Trinamool Congress supporters paraded up and down the narrow street twice, as if in mockery.


For the people across the State it was a strange feeling with a 34-year-old government going out of power. People under the age of 40 could not recall having seen a government other than the Left Front's. The Left Front has been synonymous with government for the entirety of my life. Hence this change, albeit a welcome one, is nevertheless something new and strange for me. However, it's not very healthy for any State to have a single party in power for over three decades. At least in this case change for the sake of change was not just desirable but important, said 30-year-old Arjun Sengupta, assistant professor of English in a Kolkata college.

However, there are those who are sceptical of the paribartan. Having not seen any party other than the Left Front in power, the excitement is undermining the usual cynicism. The enthusiasm that the prospect of change has generated is hard to ignore. But the proof of the pudding lies in the eating. Let's see whether this is a real change or just a change in political leadership, said 26-year-old Sucharita Ghosh, who works as editor, Niyogi Books.

It is not just the young but also the elderly who have welcomed the change. At last Bengal has regained its lost freedom, said Deepak Bhattacharjee, 70.

However, there are many who feel that the CPI(M)'s departure spells disaster for the State. Trinamool is a ruthless, directionless party that has associations with ruffians and Maoists. I do not know what kind of administration we can look forward to here. The streets will not be safe any more, said Debasis Das (name changed), a resident of Kalighat and a long-time supporter of the CPI(M).


For Mamata Banerjee, who will be the first woman Chief Minister of West Bengal, it has been a roller-coaster ride that has seen her ascend the heights of power and political glory and also plunge the depths of defeat and redundancy. But she has always managed to bounce back, and from being the eternal adversary she has finally emerged the champion. Whatever objections one may have to her brand of politics and style of functioning, there is no denying her steadfast and resolute opposition to the CPI(M) and her never-say-die spirit.

When she parted with the Congress in December 1997 and formed the Trinamool Congress in 1998, many political observers saw it as the beginning of the end of her political career. She proved them wrong by soon establishing herself as the principal opposition to the Left Front. In 2004, after several political somersaults that saw her leaving the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), tying up with the Congress in West Bengal, and then going back to the NDA fold, her career had reached its lowest point. She was perceived as whimsical and petulant and opportunistic, and in the general elections that year she alone won from her party. Her downward slide continued with the party losing control of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation in 2005 and winning only 29 seats in the 2006 Assembly polls, down from 60 in 2001.


Just when it seemed that her political career was all but over, Mamata found a way to bounce back this time with her agitation against the acquisition of farmland for industry. This once again brought her into direct confrontation with the Left Front and its industrialisation drive.

Her violent agitation in Singur, which forced Tata Motors to shift its prestigious small car project a showcase project of the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government from the State, and the bloody turf war in Nandigram in the garb of protesting against land acquisition, gave her a new lease of political life. She came to be seen as a protector of poor farmers even though it affected the industrial development of West Bengal and provided a foothold in the State for leftwing extremists, who claimed to be her ally during the Nandigram battles.

With this new image and the new slogan of Ma, Maati, Manush she staged her political comeback. She severed all ties with the NDA and joined forces with the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance. She was once again given the Railways portfolio an opportunity she utilised fully to make inroads into the nooks and crannies of the State. Now, when the people have given her the chance to rule the State, the challenge for her and the Trinamool Congress will be to deliver on the promises made.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment