Victor's challenge

Rural Bengal has kept its faith in the TMC, but the party cannot afford to ignore the warning signs

In West Bengal, the massive electoral swing that began after the rural polls of 2008 appears to have come a full circle. The Left and the Congress have been routed by the TMC, which has won 13 out of 17 zilla parishads in the 2013 panchayat polls. There is an odd symmetry to the reversal of fortunes. In 2008, it was the Left that had won 13 zillas. There are other similarities between the CPM of 2008 and the TMC of 2013, many of them troubling. Polls are still marked by violence, with at least 24 killed this year. Like the CPM in 2008, the TMC has won a large number of seats unopposed more than 6,000. Accounts of coercion, and of rival candidates not being allowed to file their nominations, cannot be dismissed. Nevertheless, rural Bengal has reinforced the mandate won by the TMC in the assembly elections of 2011. And the party has registered some remarkable feats. For instance, it has swept the Maoist-affected areas of Jangalmahal, though this was also the area where many seats went uncontested. It has breached Congress and Left bastions in north and central Bengal.

Having said that, the poll results contain warning signs the TMC cannot afford to ignore. In the hinterlands of Kolkata pockets of South 24 Parganas, Howrah and Nadia the party's support base has been eroded. The urban discontents that have been piling up against the TMC on account of the deterioration of law and order, the flight of industry and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's crackdown on dissenting voices seem to have made their way into these areas. In Singur, the TMC won 12 out 16 panchayats, a comedown from the 15 it had won in 2008. In Nandigram, dissident party members contesting as independent candidates made inroads into what had been a TMC stronghold. Both were flashpoints for anti-Left sentiment, and had flagged off Banerjee's charge against the then ruling government. Arguably, since then, her bungling on land acquisition and various failures in governance seem to have left voters there disillusioned.

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