By bappaditya paul
Mamata Banerjee is riding high on the pre-poll surveys by television channels projecting anything between 28-30 seats for her Trinamul Congress out of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal. In 2009, her party had bagged 19 seats fighting the polls in alliance with the Congress. Given that it was only in 2011 that Mamata thumped to power in Bengal with a huge popular mandate, the projection should have sounded only reasonable. More so because her government has barely completed three years in power and it will be naïve to expect an anti-incumbency to set in such a short span of time. Add to this, the Opposition Left Front’s reduced vigour and a near extinct organisational strength of the Congress.
But between 2011 and 2014 much has changed both as regards the political formation under Miss Banerjee’s command and the perception about her capabilities to govern. Apart from Congress, other important allies that she has lost in the past three years include the Suci, PDF and the GJMM (which despite not being a declared ally, had extended support to the Trinamul in a number of Assembly seats in Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri districts). Here are four major factors looming large in Bengal’s electoral scenario that have all the potentials to upset Mamata Banerjee’s Lok Sabha poll applecart.
There can be disagreement on whether the country is witnessing an anti-UPA wave or a pro-Modi wave, but the fact remains that being the prominent political party opposed to the Congress, BJP is finding some resonance everywhere. West Bengal is no exception albeit the intensity is low.
It will be a hazard to say for sure whether the BJP will bag more than one seat in Bengal, but there are at least 11 Lok Sabha seats in the state where the lotus could eat up a sizeable vote and play a spoilsport to the Trinamul’s great expectations. They are ~ Alipurduar, Balurghat, Asansol, Birbhum, Krishnanagar, Sreerampore, Basirhat, Barasat, Dum Dum, Howrah and Kolkata North.
In the 2009 LS polls, BJP secured 03-21 per cent votes in these constituencies; in the 2011 Assembly poll when a strong pro-Trinamul wave was blowing and the saffron party fought it alone, its vote share in terms of the LS segments ranged between 2.38 – 10 per cent. Prior to this, in 2004, when the BJP had contested the LS polls in alliance with the Trinamul, the party’s vote share stood between 19 – 42 per cent. One can recall that in 2004, there was a wave in favour of the BJP similar to the one this year.
The BJP fetching even an average 15 per cent vote in the11 seats named above will mean a huge blow to the Trinamul because, the winning/losing margin in many of these seats in 2009 was even less that 15 per cent. Add to this, the Congress, which will also take some anti-Left votes in every seat.
Intra-party feud is an area on concern for the Trinamul. Mamata Banerjee had to opt for six new star candidates in seats where the personality clash amongst her sitting MPs and MLAs is very apparent.
In doing so, she may have put a lid on the feud from coming out in the open this poll season but this has also frustrated some of her party leaders making them to believe that Mamata is giving more weightage to stars than those who are sweating it out for the Trinamul. And since this is not an Assembly election they might use the opportunity to teach their Didi some lessons. There are at least five seats where intra-party feud and dissatisfaction over the selection of candidates may prove costly. In Jalpaiguri, Balurghat and Jadavpur rival Trinamul factions are running parallel party offices in some of the Assembly segments and have even clashed during the campaign. In case of Beherampore and Hooghly the Trinamul nominees had to seek the intervention of the party top brass to activate the district level leaders and workers.
TEACHER RECRUITMENT CONTROVERSY
In 2013, nearly 17.51 lakh aspirants appeared for the Teacher’s Eligibility Test for primary schools in Bengal; only 18,793 or 1.07 per cent could sail through. But that’s not the point.
In a sting operation carried out later, a Bengali news television found out that of the 1.07 per cent who passed the TET and were subsequently recruited in primary schools, many were family members and relatives of Trinamul leaders and MLAs. Despite the expose the state government refused to order a probe.
Instead a fresh TET has been ordered for the unsuccessful candidates without charging a fee. But this can hardly be a solace for the 17.32-lakh TET aspirants who have seen on TV the state primary board officials stating that Trinamul workers were given priority both in the evaluation process and recruitment. Close on the heels of this came the revelation last month when a senior official of the West Bengal School Service Commission said on record that 5,000-odd deserving candidates were deprived while recruiting high school teachers. The concerned official since then been removed and placed on compulsory waiting.
Consider that the 17.32-lakh TET unsuccessful and the 5,000-odd SSC deprived has four adult family members on an average; the ramifications for the ruling party could be devastating.
In the recent years, safety and security of women have become a major concern in Bengal. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data for 2012, which is the latest available figure on crimes in India, put Bengal on top as regards crimes against women at 30,942 registered incidents (12.67 per cent). In 2011, the figure was 29,133.
More than figures, the perceived insecurity of women in the state is likely to affect the Trinamul vote bank in urban areas, especially because the way the state government handled some of the highly publicised rape cases. From the Park Street to Kamduni and Madhyamgram to Labhpur gang rape cases, the conduct of the ruling dispensation was hardly reassuring. Consider the number of civil and women rights activists who took to the streets in the past few months to protest the rising crime against women, their sentiment could well reflect in the ballot box to the disadvantage of the Trinamul Congress.
(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India).