Even as the CPI(M) brass show a brave face and publicly maintain they will form the next government in West Bengal, the party’s internal feedback from the districts shows the Left Front will go out of power after a record stint of 34 years.
The feedback has come from districts where polling is already over. The final phase is on Tuesday, in just 14 constituencies. The counting of votes, with those of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Puducherry and Assam, will be on Friday.
In the 2006 assembly election, the Left Front had won 235 of 294 seats in Bengal. Its assessment now says the Left might be reduced to less than 100 seats.
Rezzak Molla, a senior minister in Buddhadev Bhattacharjee’s cabinet and member of the party’s state committee, feels the Left coalition could hope to get at most 120 seats—far short of the required 148 to form a government. But even 148 is seen by a section of the party, in the loop on the internal assessment, as a far cry.
Two years earlier, when the Left suffered its biggest setback till date, in the Lok Sabha election, it bled heavily in nine districts: Murshidabad, Nadia, North 24 Parganas, Kolkata, South 24 Parganas, East Medinipur, Howrah, Hooghly and Burdwan. In 2009, of 24 Lok Sabha seats, the Left was defeated in 22 seats by the TMC in this area.
This is a prime agricultural area, with small per capita land holding. The population comprises mostly farmers with modest income. This densely populated region has a majority of farmers from either scheduled castes or the minority community and since 2006, four major anti-Left peasant movements—Singur (Hoogly district), Nandigram (East Medinipur), Bhangar (South 24 Parganas) and Katwa (Burdwan) – took place in this area. Scheduled castes and Muslims together form more than half the state’s total voting population and their growing discontent had started eroding the support base of the Left in rural Bengal.
According to the internal assessment, the “electoral killing field” has spread further. The anti-Left sentiment has made inroads in Burdwan, Hooghly and Birbhum, otherwise known as traditional strongholds of the Left. In the municipal elections of 2010, the Left had lost a number of municipalities in this area to the TMC.
A senior CPI(M) leader concedes the TMC will do well in the third and fourth phases of polling, which covered 138 seats in six districts of South Bengal. “Of these 138 seats, 75 per cent (104) may go to Trinamool,” admits the CPI (M) leader.
In this given situation, a few senior leaders privately concede the Left won’t be able to go anywhere near the 2006 election result. The 2009 Lok Sabha results showed the Trinamool-Congress combine’s vote share had gone up to 46 per cent and the Left’s share had come to 43.3 per cent—a slide of seven per cent from their 2004 tallies. Those results also showed a Left majority in only 99 of the 294 assembly segments within the 42 parliamentary constituencies. Several senior CPI(M) leaders also concede privately that last year’s civil poll results show that instead of checking the downward slide, the vote share of the Left had gone further down.