Mamata magic continues, Trinamool tops panchayat polls
West Bengal's rural voters gave the thumbs up to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress, which decimated the Left Front and crippled the Congress in the violence-hit panchayat polls.
With the vote count in the three-tier election drawing to a close, the Trinamool swept the zilla parishad, panchayat samiti and gram panchayat -- all three levels of rural governance.
The election had been billed as a curtain raiser to the 2014 general election and the biggest test of Banerjee's popularity since she came to power in 2011.
Clearly, the Saradha chit fund scam - the state's biggest financial scandal - and rising crime against women and other issues, often linked to the chief minister and her close associates failed to sway the voters.
The results provided the most powerful barometer to gauge the public mood after the Trinamool snapped ties with the Congress last year.
The mandate showed that triangular fights hurt the Congress the most. The Trinamool managed to increase its sphere of influence. The Left also gained in north Bengal as the Trinamool cut into Congress votes.
The Trinamool won absolute majority in the zilla parishads in 13 of 17 districts, virtually reversing the script five years ago when the Left got 13 zilla parishads and the Trinamool and the Congress two each.
This time, the Congress and the Left secured majority in one zilla parishad each. The Left failed one seat short of capturing another zilla parishad while a third produced a hung verdict.
Of the 824 zilla parishad seats, 531 went to the Trinamool, 207 to the Left, 80 to the Congress and four to others. Counting was stopped in two seats following allegations of mal-practices.
The Trinamool maintained its supremacy in Kolkata's neighbouring southern districts and virtually wiped out the CPI-M-led Left Front in what was so far known as a "red belt".
Junglemahal, comprising the western districts of West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia where the Maoists once held sway, saw a Trinamool wave.
The Trinamool retained the two zilla parishads it won in 2008 - East Midnapore and South 24 Parganas - and wrested 11 from the Left, which lost grip over 12 of the 13 zilla parishads.
The Left's only consolation came from northern Bengal's Jalpaiguri district where it managed to retain the zilla parishad. But it conceded 11 zilla parishads to the Trinamool and one - Murshidabad - to Congress.
Murshidabad, where the Congress base is nurtured by veteran Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, was the only zilla parishad where the party got a majority.
But the Congress slipped in its old citadels of Malda and North Dinajpur, where it ran the zilla parishads over the last five years.
Both districts came up with hung verdicts in the triangular fight though the Left got half the seats in North Dinajpur.
In the panchayat samitis, the Trinamool's success story was more spectacular. It won over 70 percent of the middle level bodies in the three tier rural council system.
It also gained 60 percent of the gram panchayat bodies - the lowest rung. The Left finished a distant second and the Congress a poor third in both tiers.
The Trinamool maintained its hold over Singur in Hooghly district and East Midnapore's Nandigram where peasant movements against land acquisition by the erstwhile Left government paved the way for Banerjee's ascendancy to power.
Even as an elated Banerjee dedicated her party's success to the rural people, the Left Front and Congress credited the victory to Trinamool's terror tactics and rampant wrongdoing.
The opposition cited Trinamool's winning over 6,000 seats uncontested to buttress its claims.
The massive democratic exercise involving 1.69 lakh candidates - around 90,000 of them women - had 58,865 seats up for grabs.
At least 24 people were killed in the five phased polls which began July 11.