Bengal'sbloodiest seventh panchayat elections, which claimed at least 24 lives during the three-phase polling, surprised the CPM as the Opposition combine has routed the ruling Left Front in most panchayat samities and gram panchayats in six districts for the first time in three decades. Moreover, four zilla parishads that went to the Opposition, three were regarded as strongholds of the CPM during the past 31 years of its uninterrupted regime. The final tally shows that out of 329 panchayat samities in the state, Opposition won in 131 this time against only 40 in the previous 2003 panchayat polls. Of the total 3,220 gram panchayats, Opposition gained control over 1,463 G Ps this time against only 744 in 2003 polls. There was tie in 118 GPs and results were withheld in another 42 GPs.
It was only in zilla parishads that the Left Front did well by retaining 13 out of 17 ZPs in Bengal thanks to Trinamul chief, Mamata Banerjee, who did not allow any alliance in the Opposition camp against the Left in zilla parishad levels. However, her dictum not to forge alliance with either the BJP or the Congress did not work fully in two other lower tiers. There was one conscientious Opposition candidate in about 55 per cent seats in panchayat samities and gram panchayats. This 1:1 formula proved fruitful as the Left candidates had lost to the Opposition combine in two lower tiers.
The biggest blow to the CPM was its humiliating defeat in trouble-torn Nandigram and in Singur. The CPM was desperate to retain Nandigram and Singur, the centres of mass uprising against Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government'sfarmland acquisition policy for industry. The CPM party bosses were aware that if the poll verdict in these two areas went against them then it would surely be interpreted as a referendum against the government'sfarmland acquisition policy. This was precisely the reason behind unleashing of widespread red terror on the eve of panchayat polls in Nandigram and in Singur. Moreover, armed red guards had tried their best to rig the elections with the help of state police. But the CPM'smuscle-flexing tactic failed to keep the voters in Nandigram at bay; thanks to the active role of the CRP, DIG Aloke Raj who did not surrender to the threats of the CPM MP, Lakshman Seth. Nandigram voters came out in thousands under the protection of Aloke Raj and exercised their right to franchise that led to a total rout of the party in Nandigram. The Times of India, Kolkata described drubbing of the CPM in Nandigram and Singur as ballots won over bullets. The report said, ?The red brigade suffering a washout in areas where Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee tried to showcase his new industrial renaissance by romancing with big businesses and FDI?.
The poll verdicts in Nandigram and Singur are seen as a litmus test for the government'sland acquisition policy for big businesses. The Nandigram blow resulted in the CPM losing control of the East Midnapore as well as its neighbouring South 24 Parganas zilla parishads for the first time in three decades. In Singur, the CPM lost all the three zilla parishad seats there. No doubt, if the proposal for a chemical hub in Nandigram dug the CPM'sgrave in East Midnapore, it was the land acquisition for the Tata Motors small car plant at Singur that cost the party heavily there.
Strangely, industry has never been a major plank in panchayat polls in Bengal before. This is evident from the pattern of votes in areas where the CPM-led government proposed to set up industries on agricultural land. The government has decided to acquire land for the Salim Group in Haldia, Baruipur, Bhangar and Sonarpur and Barasat for an express highway after the panchayat polls are over. The CPM was routed in panchayat elections exactly from Haldia to Sonarpur as a clear mark of protest by farmers irrespective of their political identities. The CPM state secretary, Biman Bose admitted that loyal supporters of his party in these places had voted against the party candidates. In fact, the CPM loyalists have voted against the party candidates just to save their farmland. Otherwise, there was no reason for the defeats of CPM candidates in their own red citadel. This is also true for the party'shumiliating defeat in its another stronghold Dankuni in Chanditala, Hooghly, where the government has proposed to set up a mega township by acquiring farmland after panchayat polls are over.
The panchayat poll reverses in most south Bengal districts have put a big question mark on the fate of the proposed Barasat-Haldia express highway in south 24 Parganas, the ship building project at Geonkhali and chemical hub at Nayachar in east Midnapore. Emboldened by the victory in Nandigram and Singur, Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee said that she would do her best to stop the Tatas small car project in Singur as well as chemical hub in Nayachar.
Message is already understood by the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government and the state industries minister, Nirupam Sen has asked the officials of the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation not to apply the Land Acquisition Act for acquiring farmland for setting up industries. No doubt, the CPM and its party ministers have learnt a good lesson from the public outrage manifested in Bengal'sseventh panchayat polls.
(Kolkata VSK feature)