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The Rediff Election Special /
Why did the NDA lose West Bengal?
May 14, 2004
Mamata Banerjee's flip-flop politics and the anti-NDA wave in the country contributed to the Trinamool Congress-BJP alliance's stunning defeat in the West Bengal Lok Sabha polls even as the ruling Left Front and the Congress posted major gains.
The CPI (M)-led LF registered their second best performance since 1991, bagging 35 of the 42 seats in the state. This is a marked improvement from their performance in the 1999 elections, where they bagged 29 seats.
A resurgent Congress too showed marked improvement, doubling its tally to six.
Both the LF and the Congress gained at the expense of the Trinamool, which saw a complete rout -- winning only one of the eight seats they held in the last Lok Sabha.
The BJP lost both their seats.
Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee was the only person from her party to retain her seat; she won from Kolkata South with a drastically reduced margin of a little over 98,000 as against the 2.14 lakh plus votes she polled in 1999.
The LF must, no doubt, be pleased with their performance; West Bengal Chief Minister Budhhadeb Bhattacherjee had predicted an increase of only three to four seats for the Front.
The highlight was the LF's performance in the urban areas; they won two of the proper Kolkata seats that had been the Trinamool's strongholds since their creation in 1998.
The Trinamool's defeat was the culmination of the steady decline in Mamata's mass base, provoked by her recent whimsical decisions.
After her meteoric rise that began in 1998, when she walked out of the Congress to float the Trinamool Congress as a 'real' alternative to the Left Front, the firebrand leader apparently alienated her supporters because of her flip-flop antics since 2000.
She first walked out of the Vajpayee government in protest against the petrol price hike. Then, she deserted the NDA in the wake of the Tehelka controversy and formed an alliance with the Congress for the 2001 West Bengal assembly elections. When this attempt to oust the Marxists also failed, she returned to the NDA in a mere six months. All this resulted in a further erosion of her credibility.
Last year, Mamata again cancelled her plan of joining the Vajpayee government at the eleventh hour, in protest against the move to induct her party colleague Sudip Bandyopadhyay as well. She finally joined the government later last year.
Her tantrums apparently led to a large-scale erosion in the anti-Left voter base that had sided with the Trinamool in 1998 and 1999 to give her a massive victory.
This was evident in last year's statewide panchayat elections, when the Congress began emerging as the main opposition in the state at the expense of the Trinamool.
Apparently the Muslims as well as the middle class deserted Mamata and the NDA this time, leading to their rout in the state.
The erosion in Mamata's mass base led to an increase in the support for the Congress. Realising this, Pranab Mukherjee jumped into the electoral fray once again after 24 years and wrested the CPI (M) seat in Jangipur. The last two times he contested -- in 1977 and 1980 -- he was defeated.
The consolidation of the anti-Left vote also helped the Congress wrest Darjeeling and Murshidabad from the CPI (M), even as its leaders, Ghani Khan Choudhury, Priyaranjan Dasmunshi and Adhir Choudhury retained their seats.
The anti-NDA wave was so strong that Mamata's poll ally in the state, the BJP, bit the dust as well. Both its Union ministers, Satyabrata Mukherjee and Tapan Sikdar, failed to retain their seats.
The CPI (M), meanwhile, made a strong comeback in Kolkata in addition to its spectacular showing in the suburbs where it wrested back the red citadels of Dum Dum and Jadavpur.
The LF was also able to increase the percentage of votes it polled in the seats it wrested from the Trinamool. Its candidates scored victories with high margins, proof of the severe erosion in the Opposition's vote bank.
The margins of victory were as high as five lakh at Aramabagh, which was retained by CPI (M)'s Anil Basu. At Burdwan, CPI (M)'s Nikhilananda Sar won by a margin of 4.67 lakh votes. At Bishnupur, new CPI (M) face Sushmita Bauri won by a margin of more than three lakh votes.