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

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Who’s afraid of a Mahajot?

It could be the infighting in the Left, and not the Trinamool-Congress alliance, which could spell doom for the Red brigade in West Bengal, writes Saugar Sengupta

Muslim, Mahajot, Mamata: paltabey Banglar kshamata (Muslims, Mahajot and Mamata will change Bengal’s power structure). This is what a poll-graffiti says deep inside a minority area in Kolkata’s Garden Reach.

It seems that her Batla House tirade against the persecutors of “innocent” Muslims, along with the relentless campaign for justice for Rizwanur Rehman’s family, and her success at driving away industry from the paddy fields (which incidentally belonged mostly to Muslims) of Nandigram and Singur have paid the desired dividends to Trinamool Congress chairperson Mamata Banerjee.

Last month, the buoyed Trinamool chief had said during the Bishnupur by-election campaign: “In the coming general elections, the CPI(M) will fall with a thud, and in the 2011 Assembly polls, they will fall into bits.”

Will Banerjee’s prophesy come true? With the Trinamool Congress and Congress having struck an alliance (Mahajot) in West Bengal, the “invincible” Left in the State has reason to worry.

State Congress vice-president Subroto Mukherjee backed a Mahajot since he thought the Congress’ 16 per cent vote share and the Trinamool’s 32 per cent vote share would combine well to bring about a communist fall in West Bengal.

Said Behrampore MP Adhir Chowdhury: “Nandigram and Bishnupur have shown what a combined Opposition can do to the Left Front. Every time, the Marxists have benefited from a fractured voting pattern. This time round, the Mahajot has come in time.” It would increase the Opposition seat by 300 per cent, he said.

Nadia strongman and Congress leader Shankar Singh said, “The effectiveness of a united fight against the CPI(M) can never be denied, as the percentage of votes polled by the Opposition would suggest.”

It was the Left Front’s losses in the Nandigram, Bishnupur and Sujapur Assembly bypolls that gave impetus to the grand alliance initiative.

The Trinamool not only covered a deficit of about 15,000 votes, but also wrested Nandigram from the Left by a margin of 39,500. Similarly, Congress won Sujapur in Malda by 21,000 votes, an increment of 2,000. The Bishnupur seat, which the Left had last time won by 4,000 votes, was bagged by the Trinamool by a margin of 30,000 votes.

“In all cases, the Left fell to a united opposition,” said Trinamool leader Partho Chattopadhyay. “The CPI(M) will face a humiliating defeat in the general elections and the 2011 Assembly polls.”

Observers believe that if the Mahajot works properly in the Muslim dominated districts of Murshidabad, Malda, Nadia, the two 24 Parganas and East Midnapore — Muslims constitute between 42 per cent and 57 per cent of the total voters in these areas — the Opposition could scrape through.

Which explains why Marxist patriarch Jyoti Basu conceded that fighting a united Opposition would be tough. “Our seat strength may dwindle,” he said.

State CPI(M) secretary and Left Front chairman Biman Bose too said that the Front would have a mountain to climb this time round.

Yet, Banerjee’s 2001 Assembly poll experience, when an alliance was struck between her and Pranab Mukherjee, suggests caution. At that time, then PCC president Somen Mitra played spoilsport by incapacitating the grand alliance through covert means.

In the current situation, different interests are pulling in different directions. A possé of PCC satraps like Manas Bhunia, Pradip Bhattacharya, Shankar Singh, Deepa Dasmunshi, Abdul Mannan and Adhir Chowdhury have expressed their reservations for the Mahajot. They have officially maintained that the Congress should go for an honourable understanding that should include “at least 16 seats including 12 winnable ones from the Trinamool, an unconditional apology from the Trinamool leadership for publicly castigating Pranab Mukherjee and not the least, liberty not to support Congress turncoats like Sudip Bandopadhyay and Somen Mitra who have recently joined the Trinamool in quest of tickets.”

Though these leaders have been coerced by the Congress high command to join cause with Mamata Banerjee, there is sufficient doubt how diligently these leaders will follow Delhi’s instructions.

“Then there are personal interests to be pursued,” says an insider, pointing out how Bhunia is eyeing the Kolkata North seat, already fixed for Bandopadhyay. Pradip Bhattacharya is gunning for the Serampore seat which has already been earmarked by the Trinamool chief for party lawyer Kalyan Banerjee. Third, Dasmunshi would not like Banerjee’s setting foot in North Bengal, a fief that has for all practical purposes become hers.

On the other hand, the effectiveness of the Mahajot will erode substantially in the North Bengal constituencies where the Gorkhaland movement has given a reason to Bengalis to rally behind the ruling Marxists.

In central Bengal, the erosion of the Left’s minority vote bank has been lesser as was proved in the panchayat elections when the Front wrested back the Muslim majority Murshidabad district board from the invincible Adhir Chowdhury.

The Left leadership on its part says the results of a few stray elections should not be taken as a rule since all the three constituencies of Nandigram, Bishnupur and Sujapur belonged to the Opposition. While in Bishnupur 11 out of 12 panchayat samitis belonged to the Trinamool, in Nandigram all but one panchayats were controlled by the Trinamool-backed BUPC. And Sujapur in Malda has always been a Congress bastion.

Hence, says a veteran Marxist leader requesting anonymity, “No Mahajot can obliterate the Left from West Bengal”. Instead, he says the Left can only be defeated by the Left. He shows how infighting in the Front — between CPI(M) and RSP and CPI(M) and Forward Bloc — have cost them many seats. “North and South 24 Parganas are two cases in point,” he says.

The chinks in the Left’s armour were exposed recently when sitting Katwa CPI(M) MP Abu Ayes Mondal joined Trinamool Congress after he was denied a ticket by his party.

With interest grouping on the rise in the CPI(M), it is not a jot (coalition) but a ghot (intrigue) that could see the back of the Left.
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