Total seats 42CPI(M) 24CPI 3RSP 4Forward Bloc 2Trinamul Congress 7 BJP 1Congress(I) 1
THE CPI(M)-led Left Front has repeated its 1996 performance in West Bengal; it has again sent 33 MPs to the Lok Sabha. However, for the first time since it came to power in the State in 1977, the ruling Left Front appears to be perturbed by the results. The emergence of Mamata Banerjee's Trinamul Congress as the major Opposition party in the State is the cause of the worry.
The elections saw the marginalisation of the Congress(I) and the consolidation of their bases by the Trinamul Congress and its electoral ally, the BJP. Together they won eight seats.
After the results were declared, Chief Minister Jyoti Basu said: "Our task has become more difficult owing to the sizable shifting of votes from the Congress(I) to the Trinamul Congress-BJP combine." To confront this situation, he said, a review of the election results and the voting patterns was being undertaken and a concrete programme for the future would be adopted.
Mamata Banerjee defeated CPI(M) candidate Prasanta Sur by 2,23,811 votes in Calcutta South. Her party wrested all the three Calcutta seats which were won by the Congress(I) in 1996. Former Union Minister Ajit Panja, who joined the Trinamul Congress, won the Calcutta North-East seat. In all, the party wrested six seats from the Congress(I) and one from the Forward Bloc, a constituent in the Left Front. The Trinamul Congress finished second in 18 of the 29 seats it contested, and the BJP came second in 10 of the 14 seats it contested.
The BJP opened its account in the State by winning Dum Dum, which was a CPI(M) citadel. The victory of BJP State president Tapan Sikdar in Dum Dum, an industrial suburb of Calcutta, was a matter of great concern for the CPI(M). The CPI(M) has started a booth-wise survey in the constituency to understand the reason for the defeat of its two-time MP Nirmal Chatterjee.
Sailen Dasgupta, CPI(M) State secretary and Left Front chairman, told Frontline that the Trinamul Congress-BJP alliance securing a major portion of the Congress(I) vote marked a "dangerous trend".
The Congress(I) was pushed to the third position in most constituencies. This has been its worst performance in the State; 22 of the 41 Congress(I) candidates forfeited their deposits. Barring Malda, where former Union Railway Minister A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury won, none of the party's eight MPs in the previous Lok Sabha won. Of them, Pradip Bhattacharya in Serampore and Jayanta Bhattacharya in Tamluk lost their deposits. Congress(I) leader Saugata Roy, who was in the fray in Calcutta South against Mamata Banerjee, secured 56,725 votes, 82,000 votes less than the figure required to save his deposit.
Even in 1984, when the Congress(I) won 16 Lok Sabha seats in the State riding the crest of the nationwide sympathy wave after Indira Gandhi's assassination, the CPI(M) leadership was not as worried as it is now. They realise that unlike the beleaguered Congress(I), the Trinamul Congress-BJP alliance is capable of consolidating further the anti-Left vote. The CPI(M)'s anxieties are exacerbated by the immediate prospect of a BJP-led alliance coming to power at the Centre. Party insiders fear that encouraged by the BJP, Mamata Banerjee will seek to embarrass the Left Front and expand the organisational network of the Trinamul Congress across West Bengal. In the panchayat elections in May, the BJP and the Trinamul Congress may target Left strongholds in rural West Bengal.
The CPI(M) leadership is also concerned about the drop in its percentage of votes in many constituencies despite a high voter turnout (between 75 per cent and 80 per cent). The party's vote share in urban and semi-urban constituencies has slipped by 6 to 7 percentage points since the last elections. The CPI(M) had 36 per cent of the popular vote in 1996, an improvement over its 1991 performance, when it had 35 per cent of the vote. The party's victory margins have been smaller this time.
Prominent among the the CPI(M) winners were Somnath Chatterjee (Bolpur), Ananda Pathak (Darjeeling), Tarit Topdar (Barrackpore), Rupchand Pal (Hooghly), Lakshman Seth (Tamluk), Basudeb Acharya (Bankura), Nikhilananda Sar (Burdawan) and Mehboob Zahedi (Katwa). Prominent CPI(M) losers included Malini Bhattacharya (Jadavpur), Prasanta Chatterjee (Calcutta North-East) and Swadesh Chakravarty (Howrah).
The Left Front lost two seats, Dum Dum and Barasat, but regained two, Tamluk and Jangipur. Indrajit Gupta and Geeta Mukherjee of the CPI were elected from Midnapore and Panskura respectively.
By winning seven seats, the Trinamul Congress strengthened its claims to the Congress legacy in West Bengal. State Congress(I) leaders held that a "sudden BJP wave and Mamata Banerjee's credibility among the masses" were responsible for their party's poor showing. A Congress(I) leader said: "She completely overshadowed our campaign."
The resignation of West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee (WBPCC) president Somen Mitra, who accepted the responsibility for the Congress(I)'s debacle, has opened up the possibility of Mamata Banerjee returning to the party. The WBPCC asked the All India Congress(I) Committee not to seek the support of the Left parties to form a government at the Centre, for, WBPCC secretary Manash Bhuniya said, such a step would further erode the party's credibility in the State.
Mamata Banerjee told Frontline that her party would support a BJP government in Delhi from the outside. She said, however, that the BJP would have to incorporate her party's manifesto into its common minimum programme before seeking her support. The BJP State leadership credits its newfound success to its electoral alliance with the Trinamul Congress. The BJP now has its eye on the panchayat elections in May and the Assembly elections in 2001.