No silver lining for CPI-M in Bengal

By bappaditya paul

Even in defeat, the CPI-M in West Bengal is back to doing what it has always been accused of doing best ~ data jugglery ~ as the beleaguered party is forcing itself to see a silver lining in the drubbing in Kolkata South Lok Sabha by-poll, when actually there is none.

Minutes after the by-poll result was declared on 4 December, CPI-M state secretariat member Mr Robin Deb said, notwithstanding the defeat, the party has increased its vote share in the constituency by over two per cent since the state Assembly poll held in April. This was, he maintained, in comparison to what the CPI-M had bagged in the same electoral segments during the Assembly poll.

The claim was based on simple calculations: in April the CPI-M fetched 32.88 per cent votes and this time it got 35.63 per cent; thus making it a net gain of 2.75 per cent.
The reality, however, is that the CPI-M’s share of votes has not increased. Rather, the vote of the Marxist party has gone down by nearly one per cent since the Assembly poll.

In the 30 November by-poll for South Kolkata LS seat, the turnout was 51.55 per cent; whereas, in the April Assembly election, the polling percentage in the seven constituencies that make up the LS seat was 71.06 per cent. That was a drop of 19.51 per cent in the poll percentage over April.

Corresponding to this overall drop in voters’ turnout, the Trinamul Congress polled 22.39 per cent less votes than the 6,65,894 votes that it had got in April. But the drop in CPI-M’s vote stands at 23.09 per cent from its April bag of 3,72,763 votes.

Thus, in effect, the CPI-M this time has got .70 per cent votes less than what it was able to manage in April. This is even as the decline in poll percentage was constant at 19.51 per cent, for both the CPI-M and the Trinamul.

Also, there was no other established political party putting up candidates in this by-election and thus, the fight was a direct one between Mr Ritabrata Banerjee of the CPI-M and Mr Subrata Bakshi of the Trinamul.

The worry for the erstwhile ruling party is compounded by the fact that four out of the seven Assembly segments in question ~ Kasba, Behala (East), Behala (West), Ballygunge and Kolkata Port ~ were once CPI-M strongholds.  In fact, in the Assembly poll, barring the Kolkata Port seat, that was allotted to ally Forward Bloc, the CPI-M contested in the remaining six and was trounced by the Trinamul.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report originally appeared in The Statesman on 7 December 2011.)

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