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18 May 2017

With Mirik civic win, TMC gets toehold in Hills

TNN | May 18, 2017, Kolkata: In most circumstances, it would be foolish to read broad political trends in how people have voted for just seven small local body elections in a state. But the poll results in the seven Bengal municipalities do indicate the four principal directions politics in the state is taking right now.

One, Trinamool Congress has got a stranglehold on south, central and north Bengal, barring a few pockets of resistance and despite the widespread charges of vote-rigging. Two, it has also become the first "plains" party in recent times to get a toe in in Hills politics. Three, the Left-Congress combine stands the risk of increasing political irrelevance if it does not set its house in order very soon. Four, the erosion in Left-Congress vote share will continue to help BJP as it tries to corner the principal opposition space in Bengal.

For the record, the Trinamool bagged all three plains municipalities; it retained Pujali and wrested Domkal and Raigunj from Congress. It also became the first party from the plains to wrest a Hills civic body (Mirik). The GJM indicated that it was not yet a spent force in the Hills by retaining the three bigger Hills municipalities — Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong — quite comfortably. And the Left-Congress appeared to have been decimated from Raigunj in North Dinajpur and Domkal in Murshidabad as it failed to put up even a semblance of a fight to the Trinamool on voting day in what used to be its bastions.

With the Calcutta HC refusing to entertain a Congress petition seeking to suspend results in the Pujali, Raigunj and Domkal municipalities or countermand the poll process and order fresh polls, the morning restraint gave way to celebrations for the ruling party workers.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee herself singled out the Mirik victory for special mention. "Special thanks to Mirik for reposing faith in us. We will work sincerely for you. After so many decades we begin a new era in the hills. The hills are smiling," she said. Mirik embraced Trinamool Congress with open arms, giving it 6 seats against GJM's 3. Trinamool Congress, however, failed to match its Mirik performance in Darjeeling (it won only one out of 32 seats), Kurseong (it won three of the 27 seats) and Kalimpong (it won two out of 23 seats). However, in winning 11 Hill wards, wresting control in one on its own, the ruling party obliterated a four-decade old political status quo here.

L B Rai, the Mirik municipality chairperson-in-waiting, said, "We will try and make the Mirik civic body a model municipality. We will also take up the issue of land right with the state government. The state government has helped us a lot and we have repaid that gesture by winning in Mirik sub-division". The chief minister had earlier promised to resolve the vexed land rights issue here.

GJM president Bimal Gurng admitted all was not well in Mirik and that more attention was needed to wrest it back. "The loss in Mirik is definitely a lesson for us. We had issues of internal feuds and factionalism. We will retrospect and try to find out what went wrong and try to rectify it in the coming days," Gurung said.

GJM's decisive win in Kalimpong appeared a tad surprising. The TMC and JAP only managed to win only two seats each. "We have to congratulate the GJM for their in win as this time they actually fought. The result was not expected by us. On hind sight we have lacked the acumen of electioneering being a new party. Irrespective of the result, we will continue with our long term political activity for the people," said Harka Bahadur Chhetri, JAP president.

It is Trinamool Congress results in the plain municipalities which is expected to bolster its confidence.

For example, Trinamool Congress fought incumbency to win 12 of Pujali municipality's 16 wards. The footnote here is troubling for the Left-Congress. BJP for the first time not only managed to bag two seats here but got 37% votes, making it the second largest party in this municipality. Trinamool Congress feels infighting led to it; BJP interpreted this as its growing acceptance as the primary opposition party in south Bengal.

Raigunj and Domkal were a first even for Trinamool Congress. The traditional Congress bastions fell like ninepins under the Trinamool assault. Raigunj's decade-old municipality chairperson and MLA Mohit Sengupta was defeated in his own ward. Here too, BJP sprang a surprise, winning one ward and securing the second position in five other wards.

But it is the margin of Trinamool Congress's Domkal win which left the Congress grappling for answers. BJP contested in 20 seats here, failing to rise beyond the third position. In several seats, Independent candidates bagged more votes than mainstream political party candidates. Shaoni Singha Roy, Murshidabad MLA, was defeated by more than 2,100 votes by her 'political disciple' Alam Khan in ward-12. It wasn't without reason therefore that a CPM candidate and a Congress candidate who won chose to switch over to Trinamool immediately after receiving their certificates.

(With inputs from Deep Gazmer, Subhro Maitra & Sukumar Mahato)

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