Published : Apr 09, 2004 00:00 IST

THE ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front (L.F.) in West Bengal is likely to strengthen its position in the State in the Lok Sabha elections on May 10. With a weak Congress(I) and the popularity of the Nationalist Trinamul Congress (NTC) and its chief and Union Minister Mamata Banerjee on the decline, the Left parties may very well look forward to a considerable increase in their current tally of 29 out of a total of 42 seats. In 1999, the CPI(M) won 21 seats and the Trinamul Congress eight. While the Congress(I) won three seats, the Bharatiya Janata Party got two. In the L.F., the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) won three each and the All India Forward Bloc (AIFB) two.

The CPI(M) will be contesting 32 seats, the RSP four, and the CPI and AIFB three each. The CPI(M) is fielding 12 new candidates in this election. The AIFB has two new faces in its list - Hiten Burman from Coochbehar and Subrata Basu from Barasat. The RSP and the CPI have renominated their sitting MPs.

The NTC, the new avatar of the Trinamul Congress after it merged with former Lok Sabha Speaker P.A. Sangma's faction of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), is contesting 28 seats. The Bharatiya Janata Party, an ally of the NTC, is contesting 12. A decision on the remaining two seats was yet to be taken at the time of writing. The Congress(I) is reported to have decided to contest 35 seats.

Dum Dum, Jadavpur and all the seats in Kolkata - North West, South and North East - are important for the CPI(M) as in 1999 Jadavpur and the Kolkata seats were won by the Trinamul Congress and Dum Dum was won by the BJP. Union Minister Tapan Sikdar of the BJP will try to retain Dum Dum for the third time and will face Amitava Nandi of the CPI(M). The other sitting MP of the BJP, Satyabrata Mukherjee from Krishnanagar, will have to defend his seat against the famous athlete and CPI(M) candidate Jyotirmayee Sikdar.

Left Front Chief Whip in the State Assembly Rabin Deb will face five-time winner Mamata Banerjee in the Kolkata South constituency. The Congress(I) is planning to field actress and social activist Nafisa Ali in the constituency. Kolkata North West, won in 1999 by Trinamul Congress candidate Sudip Bandopadhyay, will witness an interesting contest this time. In spite of having nursed his constituency well and being perceived to be a definite winner, Bandopadhyay, having fallen out with Mamata Banerjee, has been denied the party ticket this time. He will be contesting as an independent candidate and the NTC has fielded Kolkata Municipal Corporation Mayor Subrata Mukherjee. Indications are that a three-cornered contest will tilt the balance in favour of the CPI(M) candidate, Sudhangshu Sil, in this NTC stronghold.

State Minister for Development and Youth Services Mohammed Salim has been renominated by the CPI(M) for Kolkata North East seat. In 1999, Salim lost to Trinamul Congress leader and former Union Minister Ajit Panja. The L.F. also hopes to recapture the Jadavpur constituency, once a CPI(M) bastion. Trinamul Congress candidate Krishna Bose has won twice in a row from this constituency. This year she will face former MLA and CPI(M) candidate Sujan Chakraborti.

The three sitting MPs of the Congress(I) - A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhuri (Malda), Priya Ranjan Das Munshi (Raiganj) and Adhir Chowdhury (Berhampur) - will be contesting against Pranab Das and Minati Ghosh (both CPI-M), and Pramathesh Mukherjee (RSP).West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee(I) president Pranab Mukherjee, who has never won a Lok Sabha election, is likely to contest against the CPI(M)'s Abul Hasnat Khan in Jangipur. The Congress(I) will support candidates of the Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS), formed by some activists expelled from the CPI(M), in the Bankura and Katwa seats.

The industrial constituencies of Asansol, Durgapur, Howrah and Tamluk are also important for the L.F. The CPI(M)'s Swadesh Chakraborti who wrested back in 1999 the Howrah constituency lost to the Trinamul Congress in 1998, will defend the seat against the NTC's Bikram Sarkar, sitting MP from Panskura. (Sarkar had won the Panskura seat in a byelection after Gita Mukherjee of the CPI, who had won it in 1999, passed away.) Former CPI MP and All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) general secretary Gurudas Dasgupta will face Hema Choubey of the NTC in Panskura.

Sitting CPI(M) MPs Sunil Khan and Bikash Choudhury will try to retain the Durgapur and Asansol constituencies. With Mamata Banerjee heading the Union Coal and Mining Ministry, the Asansol constituency, which is located in the coal belt of the State, becomes all the more important for the L.F. The crisis in the tea industry may have a strong impact on the outcome in the north Bengal constituencies of Alipurduar, Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling.

In the last elections, riding high on the popularity of Mamata Banerjee, the Trinamul Congress made some inroads into rural Bengal, which traditionally was and still is the L.F.'s stronghold. (While the Trinamul won Barasat, Nabadwip and Contai, the BJP won Krishnanagar.) However, in a byelection that followed, Nabadwip was won back by the CPI(M).

In the last polls, the Left Front won four less than what it did in 1998. CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and chairman of the L.F. Biman Bose had at that time acknowledged that the front was late in reaching out to the people about the dangers from communal forces. This time, however, the L.F. is not likely to make the same mistake.

Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay

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