Rise and fall

Published : Jun 05, 2009 00:00 IST

Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee at a press conference in Kolkata on May 16.-DESHAKALYAN CHOWDHURY/AFP

Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee at a press conference in Kolkata on May 16.-DESHAKALYAN CHOWDHURY/AFP

WEST BENGAL Left setback By Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay

THE election results in West Bengal have come as a major shock for the ruling Left Front, led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which suffered its worst setback ever. It could win only 15 of the 42 seats as against 35 in the 2004 elections. The Trinamool Congress-Congress combine secured 25 seats, while the Trinamool ally, the Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI), won one seat in Joynagar. The Bharatiya Janata Party won one seat Darjeeling riding piggyback on the Gorkha Janamukti Morchas movement for a separate Gorkhaland state.

The Trinamool Congress alone secured 19 seats, four more than the Left Front; while the Congress kept its 2004 tally intact at six. Of the 15 seats won by the Left Front, the CPI(M) won nine, while the All India Forward Bloc (AIFB), the Communist Party of India (CPI), and the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) won two each.

Ironically, what was projected as the score of the Trinamool-Congress combine in the media and all the exit polls turned out to be the final tally of the Left Front. CPI(M) State secretary and Left Front chairman Biman Bose said: We will draw necessary lessons from the unexpected results. We will have to analyse and take corrective measures. According to him, a Congress wave was created in the State over the issue of a stable government at the Centre.

The Left stalwarts who fell include Mohammed Salim from Kolkata North, Lakshman Seth from Tamluk (within which falls Nandigram), Rup Chand Paul from Hooghly (where Singur is located), Sujan Chakraborty from Jadavpur, Tarit Topdar from Barrackpur, Amitava Nandi from Dum Dum, and Samik Lahiri from Diamond Harbour. The big winners include Union Finance and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee from Jangipur, Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee from Kolkata South, BJP stalwart and former Union Minister Jaswant Singh from Darjeeling, CPI(M) heavyweight Basudev Acharya from Bankura, and the CPIs Gurudas Dasgupta from Ghatal.

However, the Left retained all its seats in Bardhaman, Bankura, Purulia and Pashchim Medinipur.

Last years panchayat elections saw spontaneous and unplanned alliances at the grassroots level between the Trinamool Congress and the Congress, resulting in unexpected electoral victories for the two in many gram panchayats, but a rout of this magnitude for the Left was not expected at all. In the 2004 parliamentary elections, the Trinamool could secure only one seat that of Mamata Banerjee and the Congress six.

The various exit polls published in the media had suggested anywhere between 14 and 19 seats for the Trinamool-Congress combine. The maximum number of seats ever captured since 1977 by the undivided Congress in the State was 16, in the 1984 polls; the death of Indira Gandhi had created a sympathy wave in favour of the Congress.

Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee described the results as a storm of change which is heralding a new history (in West Bengal). Addressing a press conference after the results were out, she said: The people have passed a vote of no-confidence against the Left Front and the CPI(M). We believe the Left Front has become a political minority in the State.

The immediate reason for the Lefts debacle appears to be the alliance between the Congress and the Trinamool, which was blessed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi herself. The alliance prevented a division of anti-Left votes. The other main reasons for the CPI(M)s plummeting popularity in rural Bengal was the forcible land acquisition from unwilling farmers in Singur, where the Tata group was prevented by Mamata Banerjee from setting up its Nano small car project, and the police firing at Nandigram on March 14, 2007, in which 14 villagers were killed. The panchayat polls in 2008 saw a further erosion in the Lefts vote, particularly at the grassroots level.

But this cannot explain the disenchantment of the urban voters in and around Kolkata. In fact, within a belt of 100 kilometres around Kolkata, the Left failed to win a single urban seat. Apart from the anti-incumbency wave resulting from 32 successive years of Left Front rule, the estrangement of the minority community from it contributed to the Lefts reversal of fortunes. The Sachar Committee report had revealed that the lot of the Muslim poor in West Bengal left much to be desired.

However, according to senior CPI(M) leader Benoy Konar, it was more the apprehension of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coming to power again at the Centre that prompted the minorities to vote en bloc in favour of the Congress, which party alone can keep the NDA at bay at the national level.

The Left can take little comfort in the fact that this was a parliamentary election. The oppositions campaigns hardly contained any reference to national issues; instead local issues such as land acquisition for industries, the CPI(M)s misrule and terror, the firing at Nandigram and the Sachar report were the major campaign themes. In fact, the opposition treated the elections as a dress rehearsal for the Assembly elections in 2011. Therefore Mamata Banerjees assertion that the Lok Sabha result was a no-confidence motion passed against the present government may not prove to be an empty threat.

Orissa Naveens hat-trick By Prafulla Das in Bhubaneswar

THE Biju Janata Dal (BJD) recorded an unprecedented victory in the simultaneous elections held to the 147 Assembly and 21 Lok Sabha seats. During his extensive campaign across the State, Chief Minister and BJD president Naveen Patnaik did not appeal to the electorate to vote in favour of his party nominees; he sought their blessings to serve them in a better way and realise his father the late Biju Patnaiks dream of building a prosperous Orissa. And the voters reciprocated.

Patnaik, who returned to power for a third consecutive term, a record in itself, was overwhelmed by the unprecedented two-thirds majority the BJD won in the Assembly. People have showered their blessings in a big way. I cannot forget this day in my life, Patnaik said while addressing a gathering at the party headquarters in Bhubaneswar soon after the results were declared.

Patnaik, who struck a chord with the voters by urging them to support his party to carry forward the development work, said that in order to honour the faith reposed by the people on the BJD, the elected representatives would have to work 10 times harder for the well-being of the people and the progress of the State. He said the BJD would take up the demands of the State before the Central government.

Alleging that successive governments at the Centre had neglected Orissa, Patnaik expressed the hope that the new government would fulfil the just demands of the State. He reiterated that the BJD would not support a Congress- or BJP-led government in New Delhi.

In fact, no BJD leader is talking about joining any political combination at the Centre because the party has a two-thirds majority in the State. The BJD won 103 of the 127 Assembly seats it contested. It won 61 seats in 2004 when it contested 84 seats in alliance with the BJP. The Congress won 27, down from 38 in 2004. The BJD won 14 of the 21 Lok Sabha seats.

The Congress improved its performance by winning six seats as against two in 2004, although many party veterans, including nine-time winner and former Chief Minister Giridhar Gamang, were defeated. Gamang lost to the BJDs Jayaram Pangi by over 64,000 votes.

The BJP, which won 32 Assembly seats and seven Lok Sabha seats in 2004, received a severe jolt. The party, which had contested all the Assembly and Lok Sabha seats on its own after its alliance with the BJD was broken, managed to win only six Assembly segments despite its high-profile campaign: it drew a blank in the parliamentary elections. Apart from L.K. Advani, a host of star campaigners, such as Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, campaigned in the State for the two-phased elections.

The saffron party leaders had criticised Patnaik for severing ties with the BJP a few weeks before the polls.

The BJP won two of the three Assembly seats in Kandhamal district, which witnessed communal violence last year following the killing of Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Lakshmanananda Saraswati. The partys nominee and accused in the riot cases, Manoj Pradhan, who is in judicial custody, was elected from G. Udayagiri segment, while Karendra Majhi retained the Baliguda seat. The BJD won the Phulbani Assembly segment.

A host of positive factors were responsible for the BJDs rousing performance and its emergence as a strong regional party, which included Patnaiks clean image, the rice at Rs.2 a kg scheme, and the absence of any other State leader in the Congress or the BJP who could match his stature. The BJDs decision to break its alliance with the BJP after the anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal district also helped Patnaik grow in stature.

When his image was tarnished in the wake of the riots, Patnaik said that each bone of his body was secular. He did not stop at that. He waited for the right time and parted ways with the BJP when the latter needed his support the most.

Patnaik said he felt relieved that the saffron party was no longer an alliance partner. In his election meetings, he urged the people to keep communal forces out of power in the State.

Implementation of Central government-sponsored schemes such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana and the National Rural Health Mission helped brighten the BJDs prospects further.

Patnaik fought the polls on the anti-Centre plank as much as with the slogans of development and secularism. He also highlighted the various developmental programmes of his government, such as the Biju KBK Yojana, the Biju Gramjyoti Yojana and the Madhubabu Pension Scheme. This helped the BJD stand out in peoples minds. The success of womens self-help groups across the State made women voters happy.

On the political front, the seat-sharing arrangement with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the CPI(M) and the CPI (for two Lok Sabha seats and 17 Assembly seats) helped the BJD.

Strong criticism by BJP leaders helped Patnaik shine brighter in the public eye. Senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj called Patnaik a betrayer and even cursed him. Modi went one step ahead. At an election rally, he said that the soul of Lakshmanananda Saraswati would spoil Patnaiks dream of becoming the Chief Minister for the third time. The BJP leaders mostly attacked Patnaik instead of focussing on the problems facing the people or on the development of the State.

Countering the rice at Rs.2 a kg scheme, the BJP promised to provide rice at Re.1 a kilo and salt for free if voted to power. But all the prominent leaders of the party suffered defeat. In several constituencies, they were third with Congress nominees occupying the second position.

The Congress too failed to stop the BJDs victory march. The party promised to give rice at Re. 1 a kg and supply pulses, salt and onion at subsidised prices. But lack of leadership affected the partys performance.

In a bid to strengthen the partys State unit, the All India Congress Committee appointed former Union Minister K.P. Singh Deo as the president of the Pradesh Congress Committee and appointed three senior leaders as working presidents. But when it was time to choose the nominees for the polls, the leaders worked against each other. Even Singh Deo was denied the party ticket.

In the end, Congress leaders virtually fought on their individual capacity in most of the seats. The party did not project any leader as its chief ministerial candidate. Factionalism prevented Singh Deo from leading the partys campaign in a proper way.

In spite of the infighting, the Congress hoped that the split in the BJD-BJP alliance would help it put up a better performance. But the results surprised the party and others in the opposition in the State.

SIKKIM Development pays By Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay

THE Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) in the tiny Himalayan State of Sikkim has once again defied the anti-incumbency factor to emerge victorious in both the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections held simultaneously. This marks the SDFs fourth consecutive term in power in the State.

In the previous Assembly elections, the SDF won 31 seats, with the Sangha seat reserved for monks and nuns of Sikkims monasteries alone going to the Congress. This time, it bettered its tally by winning all 32 Assembly seats.

The lone Lok Sabha seat in the State was also won by the SDFs Prem Das Rai.

Chief Minister Pawan Chamling said: The victory vindicates our efforts over the last 15 years. The people of Sikkim have understood my plans and policies and have responded by giving us this overwhelming mandate.

Chamlings decision to drop 20 of his sitting MLAs, including nine of the 12 Cabinet Ministers and the Deputy Speaker of the Assembly, was a masterstroke in keeping at bay any anti-incumbency sentiment. Even the sitting Member of Parliament, Nakul Das Rai, who won by a margin of over 1.2 lakh votes in 2004, was replaced by the younger Prem Das Rai.

B.B. Gooroong, Chamlings political adviser and a former Chief Minister of Sikkim, told Frontline: The key issue in this election was development and good governance. In both fields, the SDF excelled, and so there was no scope for any anti-incumbency factor. The people of Sikkim wanted Pawan Chamling to continue with his work of development and progress. The SDF, which was a part of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), plans to renew its alliance with the Congress at the national level. In a State where politics is dominated by individual leaders rather than political parties, the SDFs victory has not only strengthened Chamlings position of pre-eminence in State politics, but also possibly marked the end of his rival and former Congress Chief Minister Nar Bahadur Bhandaris political career. Chamling and Bhandari have been the two main contenders for power since 1994.

While Chamling won from both the constituencies he contested from Poklok-Kamrang and Namchi-Singhithang in South Sikkim Bhandari lost from the two he stood from Khamdong-Singtan in East Sikkim and Chakung-Soreng in West Sikkim. To make matters worse for Bhandari, in Khamdong-Singtan, he was defeated by an absolute newcomer in politics, Prasad Sharma. In the last Assembly elections too, Bhandari contested from two constituencies Central Pendham and Gangtok and lost in both.

The SDFs strong base at the grassroots level has once again won the day for it. It is a disciplined, cadre-based party whose organisational reach is widespread. It has its finger firmly on the pulse of the State electorate, particularly in the rural belt. Of the three lakh voters in Sikkim, more than 80 per cent belong to rural areas, and they are the SDFs backbone. While most of the other parties are Gangtok-based, the SDF makes its presence felt all over the State throughout the year.

Chamlings thrust on development has evidently paid political dividends. In fact, it was the SDF government that first took the decision to allocate 70 per cent of the States budget for the development of rural areas. It has promised to banish poverty from the State by 2015 and make the people of Sikkim completely self-reliant. In 1994, when the SDF took over the reins of the government, the States internal revenue was only Rs.44.72 crore; this has now increased to Rs.410 crore. The net State domestic product rose from Rs.496 crore in 1995 to Rs.1,730 crore in 2007. The States Annual Plan outlay has increased from Rs. 120 crore in 1994 to Rs.1,045 crore now.

The SDF government has long identified tourism as the main source of revenue and employment in the State. Over the past 15 years, the tourism industry in the State has grown considerably. In fact, under the SDF government, there has been a 19 per cent increase in the arrival of international tourists and a 47 per cent increase in the arrival of domestic tourists in Sikkim. The recent thrust has been on the development of eco-tourism.

In order to turn Sikkim into a tourism State and provide employment to the local people, one tourist spot in each constituency is being developed. Training is also being imparted to youth to handle tourism at the village level.

Northeastern States FRACTURED VERDICT By Sushanta Talukdar in Guwahati

THE jolt in Assam was because of the rise of the BJP and the nascent Assam United Democratic Front (AUDF). The verdict showed that the pre-poll alliance between the BJP and the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) helped the former consolidate its position in the Brahmaputra valley at the cost of the regional party. The AGP could win only one of the six seats it contested. It lost to the Congress the Dibrugarh and Lakhimpur seats, which it had won in 2004. The AGP did not contest in the Barak valley and in the Autonomus District constituency, which comprises the States two hill districts of Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills.

The BJP won three of the four seats it contested in the Brahmaputra valley. While retaining Mangaldoi and Nowgong, it wrested the Gauhati seat from the ruling Congress. In the Barak valley, its candidate and former Union Minister Kabindra Purkayastha captured Silchar thanks to the AUDF, which caused a severe erosion in the Congress support base. Although the BJP could not win the Jorhat seat, its candidate Kamakya Prasad Tasa, a young and articulate leader from the tea-tribe community, helped expand its base in a number of Assembly segments. It made inroads into the traditional Congress support base among tea-tribe voters and consolidated its position in traditional AGP support bases. The BJP candidate gave a strong fight to Union Minister Bijoy Krishna Handique of the Congress, who won the seat for the sixth consecutive term.

Tasas popularity helped the party make inroads into the tea-tribe electorate in the Dibrugarh constituency too. AGP stalwart Sarbananda Sonowal had won the seat in 2004 by engineering an erosion in the Congress vote bank among the tea tribes. This time the AGP expected a total transfer of BJP vote to Sonowal, but it did not happen. The only seat won by the AGP was Tezpur, where tea-tribe leader and the sitting AGP legislator from Dhekiajuli, Joseph Toppo, defeated Congress heavyweight and sitting MP, Moni Kumar Subba. Toppos victory is expected to strengthen the position of the sidelined AGP leader and former party president, Brindaban Goswami, within the AGP. As Tezpur MLA, he had appealed to voters to help the party win. On the other hand, party president Chandra Mohan Patowary and working president Phanibhusan Choudhury will be under pressure to continue the tie-up with the BJP for the 2011 Assembly elections.

The BJP entered into an alliance with the AGP with an eye on the 2011 polls, and the verdict revealed that the party had succeeded in its game plan of expanding its base in Assam, particularly in the Brahmaputra valley.

Of the 14 seats in Assam, the Congress won seven, its coalition partner Bodoland Peoples Front (BPF) won one, the BJP four, and the AGP and the AUDF one each. In 2004, the Congress won nine seats and the AGP and the BJP two each, while the sitting BPF MP, Sansuma Khunggur Bwismuthiary, won as an independent candidate from Kokrajhar.

The AGP suffered a heavy erosion in its support among the minority voters because of its tie-up with the BJP. In the Chenga Assembly segment under the Barpeta Lok Sabha constituency, for instance, the AGP had secured 39,863 votes in 2006 to win the Assembly seat. However, the AGP candidate for the Barpeta Lok Sabha constituency, Bhupen Roy, could secure only 15,737 votes in this Assembly segment this time.

Similarly in the Baghbar Assembly segment, dominated by minorities, the AGP could secure only 2,436 votes in the latest election as against 23,452 votes in the 2006 Assembly polls. Although the AGP hoped that the AUDF would cause heavy erosion in the Congress vote among the religious minorities, the results showed that such erosion affected the AGP more than the Congress.

A significant outcome of the elections in Assam has been the rise of the AUDF. The party, which made its electoral debut in 2006 and won 10 of the total 126 Assembly seats, wrested the minority-dominated Dhubri Lok Sabha seat from the Congress.

AUDF chief Badruddin Ajmal, who is also a perfume mogul and a religious-leader-turned-politician, secured over five lakh votes and a winning margin of over 1,85,000 votes. In Silchar in the Barak valley, the AUDF pushed sitting Congress MP and Union Minister Santosh Mohan Dev to a poor third position. In the Karimganj Lok Sabha seat in the Barak valley too, the AUDF gave a tough fight to sitting Congress MP Lalit Mohan Suklabaidya who, however, managed to retain his seat.

Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi acknowledged the fact that Ajmals party, with 10 MLAs and one MP, is a force to reckon with. Gogoi had strongly resisted the move by a section of Congress leaders to forge an alliance with the AUDF to avoid an erosion in the partys traditional vote among minorities, particularly among the immigrant settlers. He succeeded in convincing the Congress high command to adopt his line that the AUDF should be asked to merge with the Congress instead of having an electoral alliance.

It has been the toughest election in Assam. Getting seven seats in spite of all the forces acting against the Congress was a tough job. We expected eight seats but we got one less, said Gogoi. Gogoi was candid in his admission that the defeat in the Gauhati seat was unexpected.

The AUDFs performance is expected to give an opportunity to Gogois detractors in the ruling party to push for an alliance between the Congress and the AUDF in the next Assembly polls. The Gogoi camp will face flak for the partys defeat in the Gauhati seat as it had opposed the renomination of sitting MP Kirip Chaliha, who had revolted against Gogoi. BJP State vice-president and former Union Minister Bijoya Chakravarty won the seat by 11,855 votes, defeating her nearest rival and sitting Congress legislator Robin Bordoloi.

The Congress swept the polls in the States of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Mizoram, winning all the five seats on offer. In the 2004 Lok Sabha polls, the party could win only one of these five seats. The BJPs overall strength in the northeastern States remained static at four as it lost both the sitting Lok Sabha seats in Arunachal Pradesh to the Congress.

In Tripura, the CPI(M) citadel remained invincible. Veteran tribal communist leader Bajuban Riyan won the Tripura East constituency with a huge margin of 2,83,700 votes to retain the seat for the seventh consecutive term. In the Tripura West constituency, too, the sitting CPI(M) MP, Khagen Das, retained the seat with a margin of 2,46,898 votes.

The ruling Nagaland Peoples Front candidate C.M. Chang won the lone Lok Sabha seat in the State by defeating the Congress K. Asungba Sangtam by a margin of 4,83,003 votes. The NPF-led Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) also won the four State Assembly byelections. Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio described the victory as a mandate in favour of the peace initiatives instituted by the DAN government.

Meghalaya, which went to the polls under Presidents Rule, maintained the status quo. The NCP retained Tura and the Congress Shillong. However, the Congress made considerable gains in the Tura Lok Sabha seat; NCP candidate Agatha Sangma, daughter of former Lok Sabha Speaker Purno Agitok Sangma, managed to retain the seat with a narrow margin of 17,945 votes by defeating her nearest Congress rival, Deborah C. Marak.

In the 2008 byelection in this Lok Sabha constituency, Agatha Sangma had won by a margin of 98,000 votes to become the youngest member of the 14th Lok Sabha. The downslide in the NCP support base in the Garo hills will be a cause of concern for the senior Sangma, who will be under pressure to rethink his anti-Congress stand.

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