Mamata's Trinamool confident of repeating 2011 success

With barely six months left for the crucial Assembly elections in West Bengal, the behind-the-scene machinations have all but begun. If Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress Chairperson Mamata Banerjee is working out ways to ensure her party retains power, the Left, the Congress and the BJP are also trying their best to work out favourable conditions for themselves.

Although it is too early to predict how things would turn out, as of now, it seems Bengal is headed for a four-way contest after a long time. For most part of the last three decades when the Left was in power, the state had just one Opposition party, the Congress, which tried hard to eke out an existence.

Since the formation of the Trinamool Congress in 1998, the political spectrum changed drastically as Mamata emerged as a force to reckon with and posed a perceptible threat to the red brigade.

With time, Trinamool went on to become the only visible opposition force to the Left, not just in Bengal but also in both Houses of parliament. With Mamata coming to power in 2011, the Reds left behind a void that was fast filled by the BJP, which till date had virtually no presence in the state and whatever little noise it made, was done from the fringes. Although the BJP enjoyed a meagre 3 per cent vote share since 2008, the nationwide wave of Narendra Modi in 2014 pushed it to a significant 17 per cent.

With its newfound success and popularity, the BJP dreamt of achieving what Mamata had during the last days of the Left regime. And the stronger the BJP got, it pushed the Congress further behind.

Although Congress won a number of seats in the 2011 Assembly polls riding the ‘Mamata tsunami’, the fallout between the two uncomfortable allies a year later gave a feeling that the Congress in Bengal had returned to what it was during much of the Left rule.

Even though the BJP managed to win its first MLA seat in 2014 in a byelection, it seemed to have come up as the primary opposition force in the state, posing a threat to Mamata just like she had to the Left since 2007. With nearly 80 per cent seats in the state Assembly belonging to the ruling Trinamool, no one could properly claim the mantle of the main Opposition on paper even though the Left and the Congress made enough noise to prove they were as much alive as the BJP.

With the advent of a New Year in 2015, BJP’s rising stars, however, seemed to be on the wane as it failed to make much of an impact in subsequent polls. The Left, on the other hand, tried its hand at revival and even came out on the streets in a show of strength to make some noise against Trinamool’s “misrule”.

Barring a handful of leaders, who made some noise over the multi-crore Saradha scam, which has haunted the Trinamool leadership since 2013, the Congress kept relatively quiet. It is under these circumstances that Bengal is gearing up for the forthcoming polls, which is believed to be crucial not just for Mamata but also for the BJP, the Left and Congress.
If for Mamata, the struggle is to see to it that her fortress is intact, for the three Opposition forces, the fight is as much for survival as it is to make a point that they have not been relegated to the sidelines by the ruling party.

Recently, Mamata went to Delhi during the first week of December and walked into 10, Janpath, to meet the Congress chairperson. The buzz is that after a total breakdown of relations, Mamata extended a hand of friendship towards Sonia.

Even though state Congress president Adhir Chowdhury and senior leaders have insisted that Congress will fight the polls on its own, insiders admit that Mamata practically plugged the chances of any Left-Congress arrangement.

Meanwhile, Mamata has made her intentions clear by supporting Congress in the National Herald case and casting the second preference vote to select a Congress councillor as chairman of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation’s accounts committee last month.

Show of friendship
Mamata’s sudden show of friendship after two years might have come as a surprise to many Congress leader but by all calculations the Trinamool chief has realised that an alliance between the two would become a roadblock for her.

Mamata is aware of a growing demand in both Left and Congress camps for an electoral tie-up, which will help consolidate a chunk of the Opposition votes, and could jeopardise the Muslim vote bank. It is this juicy piece of steak, nearly 30 per cent of the state’s electorate, which everyone is vying for, except the BJP.

While it is well-known that the Left has enjoyed this vote bank for decades and the Congress has had its share of the same traditionally, Trinamool’s coming to power in 2011 is mostly owing to this section of the electorate.

Unlike earlier times, since the last Assembly elections, the Muslim votes got consolidated and Bengal’s Muslims started casting votes en bloc like they would do in Bihar and UP. Mamata also knows that with a section of the Urdu-speaking Muslims in the state not particularly happy with her, the support from the rest of the community is crucial for her continued presence on the big chair.

Keeping these factors in mind, Bengal seems ready to walk on to the New Year with four-way polling in mind, under which circumstances the ruling Trinamool hopes to have a fair chance of regaining power.

While things are not likely to become clear before the end of January, without a Left-Congress alliance, Mamata is confident of improving upon the 2011 tally of 184 seats in a 294-seat Assembly. Senior Trinamool leaders, who are privy to knowledge, claim that the ruling party could even end up scoring between 200 and 220 seats.

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