May 11, 2014

BENGAL & LOK SABHA 2014


CAN DIDI HOLD ON OR WILL THE LEFT RECLAIM ITS LOST FORTRESS?


With 42 parliamentary seats, Bengal is the third most important state as far as the General Elections are concerned. After having stormed the Left bastion, CM Mamata Bannerjee will be hoping to crush the Communists yet again although the TMC is fighting the polls alone. After the 2010 state polls where she humiliated the comrades, the Trinamool chief is indeed confident of a good showing. For the Left parties, it is a battle for survival. Reports from their strongholds in Kerala and here indicate that the Communists might be headed towards their worst figures in recent times. The Congress too is under pressure; besides the break-up with the TMC, its face in the state - Pranab Mukherjee has shifted to Rashtrapati Bhavan. The saffron outfit is dependent on Modi wave and the popularity of its candidates to cause a few upsets.

ISSUES

(1) The performance of the Mamata regime: Didi gave a clarion call for 'Poriborton' to overthrow the Left Front in Bengal. Three years down the line though, the state still continues to be plagued by the problems it faced under the Communists. Probably the only thing that has changed is that Communist goons who used to terrorize villagers have been replaced by men loyal to Mamata. Meanwhile, unemployment is high, no dissent is tolerated and there has been a rise in crimes against women. However, to her credit, the Bengal CM has been able to curtail Maoist related violence. Moreover, her rather clean public image, a rarity at least amongst regional leaders has won her the support of anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare. While the TMC is hopeful that the development under Bannerjee government will see it through, the opposition parties are banking on anti-incumbency.

(2) Anti-incumbency against the UPA: Luckily for the TMC, the split with the Congress has saved it from having to defend the numerous failures of the INC led coalition in its second term. In the last five years, the Central government has been rocked by myriad scams like 2G, Railgate, Choppergate, Coalgate and so on. High inflation and Price rise - the issue over which the TMC severed its ties with the Congress is likely to also affect the INC's prospects. Even on the economic front, the Manmohan regime has failed to even live up to the standards it had set in its first innings. The anti-incumbency is likely to dampen Congress' chances here too.

(3) Saradha Chit Fund Scam: While anti-incumbency may be the worry for the Congress, the Saradha Chit Fund is giving head ache to Mamata and the TMC. It is believed that 17 lakh people, mainly from Bengal had lost their life-long savings in the fund whose CEO was Kunal Ghosh - former TMC MP in the Rajya Sabha who is presently behind the bars. Though he has been suspended from the party, the issue continues to be a major embarrassment for the ruling party.

(4) Secularism and Bangladeshi Migrants: The elevation of Narendra Modi to the post of BJP's official PM nominee has made 'secularism' an important issue this elections. The TMC, the Congress and the Left are all eyeing the 25 percent minority votes in the state which could be a game changer in many parliamentary seats. The Gujarat CM kicked up a storm in the state when he said that he will send back all 'illegal' Bangladeshi migrants while specifying that India is the natural home of all 'displaced' Hindus from across the border. Hitting back, the Bengal CM has dared him to do so. The war of words between the two sides has only escalated and may influence the way voters cast their votes.

CONTENDERS

(1) Trinamool Congress (TMC): Mamata Bannerjee received a big boost when Anna Hazare declared her to be the best choice to the post of the country's next Prime Minister. Buoyed by this, the TMC chief decided to go national and scheduled political rallies across the nation. However, the bon homie did not last long as Hazare skipped the Delhi rally following low attendance. Meanwhile, if reports are to be believed then the Trinamool is all set to be the third largest party in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, behind the Congress and the BJP. The incumbent CM, like Navin Patnaik in Odisha has a big choice to make once the results are out and if the electorate gives a fractured mandate. In the past, she has done business with both the two big coalitions. Her big fight with Modi in recent days has been dubbed by many as a move to retain the support of the Muslims. She could also be a choice for the PM's post if the Third Front (Link) does come to power sans the support of the Left. The TMC's list of candidates includes former footballers - Baichung Bhutia (Darjeeling) and Prasun Bannerjee (Howrah), film stars - Moon Moon Sen (Bankura), Dev (Ghatal), Satabdi Roy (Birbhum) and Tapas Pal (Krishnanagar), singer Indranil Sen (Berhampur), theatre personality Arpita Ghosh (Balurghat) and Mamata's 26 year old nephew and perhaps her political successor  Abhisekh Bannerjee (Diamond District).

(2) Left Front: While on one hand, the TMC seems to be strong, the Left is expected to struggle to even match its tally of 2009. Presently, the four Marxists parties who are a part of this alliance include the Communist Party of India - Marxist (CPI-M), the Communist Party of India (CPI), the All India Forward Block (AIFB) and the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP). Ever since losing power in 2010, the position of the Communist parties in Bengal has weakened tremendously. Moreover, to prevent the Left parties from taking the anti-UPA, anti-NDA stand, Didi has been extremely vocal in her criticism of both the Congress and the BJP. The comrades in fact need a miracle. For a Third Front government including the Left, they have to win at least 30 seats. For this to happen, Bengal holds the key. At present though, that seems to be an impossible task. In what seems to be an attempted image make over, the Reds have fielded as many as 26 new faces and has dropped 5 of its incumbent MPs.

(3) Congress: Like in Tamil Nadu, while the grand old party has presence here, the problem is with the fact that it does not have a pre-poll alliance with any strong regional player. Since it does not have a grass root level organization in Bengal that can help it win seats, the INC's situation is precarious. Moreover, after its most prominent face in the eastern state - Pranab Da was made the President of the country, the Congress does not have any popular face who can win it votes. To add to their woes, there is a strong anti-incumbency against the UPA II. Pranab's son Abhijeet Mukherjee who narrowly won a by-election from his father's constituency of Jangipur has been renominated. Union minister Adhir Ranjan Chaudhary has been given a ticket from Behrampur.

(4) Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP): The saffron outfit was hopeful that Modi magic will help it win support in those parts of the country, say like the north-east, the south and the east where it lacked any substantial base. Being a fringe player in Bengal for long, the party seems to have taken a leaf out of the ruling TMC's book and has fielded some famous personalities to help it get that extra edge, just to reinforce the Modi wave. These include Bollywood music composer Bappi Lahiri (Sreerampur), singer Babul Supriyo (Asansol), actor George Baker (Howrah) as well as magician P C Sarkar Jr. (Barasat). Journalist turned politician Chandan Mitra has been fielded from Hooghly. Besides, the Gorkha Janmukthi Morcha (GJM) which is fighting for a separate state of Gorkhaland to be carved out of northern Bengal has pledged its support to the BJP candidate S S Ahuwalia.

PAST PERFORMANCE

In the four Lok Sabha polls fought between 1996 and 2004 when the Left Front was still in power in Kolkata, the Marxists were the single largest block in Bengal. While it performance dipped in 1999, it made a strong comeback, winning 35 seats in 2004 when the Communists emerged as a strong political player on the national stage. The Congress was dealt a severe blow when Mamata formed the TMC and emerged as the only rival to the comrades in the late nineties. However, in 2004 she was nearly wiped off even as the Congress won 6 seats. Things changed in 2009 when the TMC and the Congress joined hands to take on the ruling Left regime which was facing the heat post the fiasco in Nandigram. The UPA finished with a superb tally of 25, reducing the Reds to 15.

Political Party20092004199919981996
Trinamool Congress (TMC)19187-
Left Front1535293333
Congress66319
Others2-21-


MY PREDICTIONS

Mamata's TMC is all set to walk away with at least half of the 42 seats in the fray from here. The Left will struggle to retain its earlier tally of 1 whereas the Congress will be affected by the break up with the TMC. The BJP could win at max 3 seats.

Political PartyExpected Seats
1Trinamool Congress (TMC)20-23
2Left Front12-15
3Congress2-5
4Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)0-3
5Others0-2


WATCH OUT

(1) Which front will the TMC join? If the Trinamool can finish with a tally of over 20 seats, it could well be the third largest party behind the two national outfits. This will give it tremendous bargaining power if the country gives a fractured mandate. It is well difficult to speculate which way Didi will go. Though there has been a rather ugly war of words between the TMC and the BJP in the last two weeks, a special economic package could be good enough for the Bengal CM to support a Modi led NDA. Thr problem though is the Muslim vote which is crucial for success in the state. Also, since she has also been a part of the UPA earlier, she can choose to join the coalition headed by the Congress. The bitter experiences of the past could be a deterrent. And, she could be the PM nominee if the Federal Front can somehow manage to form the next government, provided the Left is pushed out of the picture.

(2) The future of the Left: With the UDF considered to be strong in Kerala and the Mamata juggernaut rolling in Bengal, the Left Front seems to be on the back foot in the two major states where it has substantial presence. Even the idea of the Third Front which the Communists has spoken about time and again has failed to take off with regional leaders failing to come together to present a strong alternative to the Congress and the BJP. If the Opinion polls are to be believed then the comrades will find it difficult to even cross the 30 seat mark. in that situation, they will not be a major force to reckon with in national politics. In fact, the regional players may even prefer to deal with Mamata if she can cross the 20 mark and if the Communists end up with a tally of less than 30.

Other posts in this series:
(1) Karnataka & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(2) Rajasthan & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(3) Maharashtra & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(4) Goa & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(5) Kerala & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(6) Assam & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(7) Tripura & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(8) Haryana & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(9) Chhattisgarh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(10) Jammu Kashmir & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(11) Madhya Pradesh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(12) Telangana & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(13) Bihar & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(14) Jharkhand & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(15) Sikkim & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(16) Arunachal Pradesh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(17) Nagaland & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(18) Manipur & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(19) Meghalaya & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(20) Mizoram & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(21) Delhi & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(22) Gujarat & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(23) Himachal Pradesh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(24) Uttarakhand & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(25) Punjab & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(26) Odisha & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(27) Tamil Nadu & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(28) Andhra & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(29) Uttar Pradesh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)