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|September 28, 1999||
The Reds have it tough in West Bengal
Arup Chanda in Calcutta
With only five days left for the final countdown, the Communist Party of India-Marxist in West Bengal is worried. The reason is understandable.
The Trinamul Congress, a party that is only two years old, is now a formidable opposition to the ruling Marxists. With its alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party, it is posing a serious challenge to the Left Front in as many as 20 seats.
Since 1977, when the Left Front stormed to power in West Bengal, it had nothing to worry as the Congress was always divided and, except in 1984, its Lok Sabha members remained at four. In 1984 riding the post Indira Gandhi assassination wave, the Congress had bagged as many as 16 seats.
But with the Trinamul Congress opening its account with seven seats in the last general election, the CPI-M has understood that tackling Mamta Banerjee is a different ball game altogether. The gradual decimation of the Congress and the consequent possibility of a large-scale swing of its traditional votes to the Trinamul-BJP combine except in Raigunje, Malda and Baharampur is the CPI-M's main worry now.
To check this trend, CPI-M leaders are busy appealing to traditional Congress voters to vote for the Left Front candidates in order to oppose the 'communal BJP". But this has confused the Left voters, at least in West Bengal where the CPI-M had always considered the Congress as its main enemy. With its soft stand towards the Congress, the anti-incumbency factor and infighting within the party, the CPI-M is likely to suffer in the urban and semi-urban areas of the state.
In the last election, the Congress and the BJP had won one seat each. This time other than these nine seats, the Left Front is facing a stiff contest in 10 more constituencies in south Bengal.
For the Left Front, six constituencies -- Asansol, Barrackpore, Diamond Harbour, Hooghly, Krishnanagar and Nabadwip -- are considered to be vulnerable. In the 1991 and 1996 Lok Sabha polls the Congress polled 36.20 and 40.09 per cent votes, but with the emergence of Mamta Banerjee the party cut a sorry figure polling only 15.20 per cent votes in the 1998 election.
In the October 3 election, the Congress poll percentage is expected to drop further. This may determine the fate of many Left Front candidates, as the swing will certainly go in favour of the Trinamul Congress.
Analysis of the last Lok Sabha results in West Bengal indicates that the Trinamul Congress performed very well in the urban and industrial areas but not in rural areas. In constituencies situated in urban belts covering about 64 assembly segments, the Trinamul-BJP alliance got 46.39 per cent votes while the Left Front lagged behind with 39.34 per cent votes. In the industrial belt covering about 80 assembly segments, the Trinamul-BJP polled 40.49 per cent votes while the Left Front maintained a lead obtaining 43.18 per cent votes.
But in rural Bengal, considered to be the red bastion, covering 216 segments, the Left Front marched ahead with 49.42 per cent votes while the Trinamul-BJP polled 30.62 per cent votes.
Overall, the scenario was that the Trinamul and the BJP polled 24.43 and 10.19 per cent votes respectively while the Left Front got 46.83 per cent votes, which was three per cent less than what it got in the 1996 poll.
However, the Front succeeded in bagging 33 seats out of 42.
But this time the scene seems to be different. While the Trinamul-BJP might lose some of its sitting MPs, the Left Front might be surprised by the choice of the electorate in many constituencies.
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