Group President, Group Managing Director & Editor In Chief: Dr.Shelly Ahmed

Friday, March 06, 2009

Poll 2009 Scenario: Red fort’s under siege

By Sandeep Chatterjee & M H Ahssan

At Least 10 Left LS Seats In South Bengal Look Vulnerable To Mamata Tide

The Red bastion in West Bengal is under threat. No one in CPM, from Jyoti Basu to the activist in the para, will deny this. Nor the fact that the number of Left MPs from West Bengal this time will be far below the existing 35. The question is how far? Will the Opposition cross the 16-seat mark that Congress bagged in 1984 after Indira Gandhi’s assassination?

Trends in south Bengal over last nine months in the post-Nandigram era till the recent Assembly bypoll in Bishnupur West in South 24-Parganas indicate the Opposition tally could be anything between 15 and 19, provided the Congress-Trinamool alliance works down to the grassroots. The scene looks similar to the Assembly elections in 2001, when Congress had a formal alliance with Trinamool. But this time the Opposition has advantages beyond the arithmetic of coalition politics. Unlike in 2001, Mamata has been able to dent CPM’s rural bastion in south Bengal with her grassroots approach. Mamata has won acceptance among urban intelligentsia that was till the other day a monopoly of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

At least 10 Lok Sabha seats in south Bengal, now with CPM, look vulnerable. They include two seats in East Midnapore Tamluk and Contai, two in South 24-Parganas Mathurapur, Diamond Harbour, two in North 24-Parganas Bongaon and Barasat, two in Hooghly Serampore and Hooghly, the Uluberia seat in Howrah and Krishnagar in Nadia. In all these areas, 50% of gram panchayat seats went to Trinamool, as seen recently in Bishnupur West Assembly bypoll in South 24-Parganas.

CPM’s vote share is down to 40% and prospects in another three seats — namely Kolkata North, Jadavpur, Ranaghat will depend on the mechanics of the Opposition alliance and the candidate.

This is minus the five constituencies in north Bengal, now with Congress. The CPM, has, however and edge in the Darjeeling constituency if Bimal Gurung’s Gorkha Janmukti Morcha does not support the Congress. The Opposition, on the other hand, is at an advantage in Coochbehar constituency where the Forward Bloc is a little ahead.

A closer look at the rural constituencies in south Bengal bears out a method in the shifting voting pattern. All these constituencies come under areas where the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government acquired land or tried to acquire land — not just Singur or Nandigram.

Burdwan, however, stands out as an exception to the rule, though not without discontent. CPM leaders met with a blow when CPM Katwa MP Abu Ayes Mondal dumped the party on the eve of the elections. CPM’s headache in most of these areas is Bengali Muslim farmers who have switched loyalties, despite Bhattacharjee’s sops in housing and education.

Senior CPM leaders, however, believe Mamata’s recent overtures to win Muslims in the rural and urban areas would have a negative impact on her anti-CPM Hindu vote bank, a sizeable portion of which might vote for BJP. The Hindu vote would be a deciding factor in Kolkata North where BJP’s Tathagata Ray will be contesting.

The urban scene is ridden with cross-currents. Even as Mamata has her own clout among the urban poor and middle class, a section of the educated middle class and the young, seem disgusted with Mamata’s kneejerk stirs and bandhs, and the way she drove out the Tatas.

Mamata has faced it in her home turf during the durga puja when an elderly woman showed her a black flag at a south Kolkata puja pandal. For south Kolkata after delimitation is no more the one that it used to be. The new Kolkata South constituency, has an Assembly segment Kolkata Port under it including stretches such as Kabitirtha and parts of Garden Reach where the Trinamool Congress trailed the CPM in the last elections. This is not all. The new Kasba Assembly segment is another where Trinamool trails badly. The Trinamool chief has to make up for the loss with Behala West, Rashbehari and the new Bhowanipore, for she will not be getting a big margin from Behala East. Mamata needs the Congress this time, just as the Congress wants her to stymie the Left. For a tie-up with the Congress will help her make over the lag in Garden Reach where Congress leader Ram Pyare Ram has a stable base.

Jangipur: Represented by high-profile Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee, this prestigious North Bengal seat has become more favourable to the Congress after delimitation. Mukherjee, who has recently rented a house here, isn’t leaving anything to chance. Pranab has been nursing this constituency since he got elected from here in 2004

Raiganj: As Congress leader Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi is ailing, his wife Deepa is likely to get the party ticket from here

Kolkata South: Represented by Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, the party’s face and the only crowd-puller. After delimitation, the constituency has some tough assembly segments like Kolkata Port, Kasba and parts of Garden Reach

Bolpur: CPM MP from Birbhum Ramchandra Dom will fight from this seat which is reserved for an SC candidate. In 2004, former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee had won from here with over 3 lakh votes
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