Kolkata: Lonely as a cloud in the hills, Mamata Banerjee now sees Trinamool Congress bloom in Darjeeling hills.
Results for the seven municipalities in West Bengal that went to polls last week were declared on Wednesday and the Trinamool Congress won four out of the seven. The Gorkha Janamukti Morcha won in three hill municipalities. The figure, though, hardly depicts the true story.
There are three stunning indicators in the municipal poll results. For the first time in the past six years, the Trinamool Congress has left its distinct footprints in the hills, having won the Mirik municipal body and making inroads in the other three – Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong.
In the run up to the polls, Mirik had been a focal point for the Trinamool Congress in showcasing how neglect and lack of development initiatives had destroyed the beautiful hill station under GJM dispensation. Victory in Mirik comes as an opportunity for the Trinamool Congress to influence the voters in other hill areas.
Bimal Gurung’s supremacy now appears to be restricted to Darjeeling where GJM won 31 out of 32 wards in this poll. Here too, the TMC made a mark having won one ward. Even this single seat victory for TMC in Darjeeling municipality delivers a big message.
The non-GJM political outfits in the hills like the All India Gorkha League, the CPRM and other smaller entities are viewing this result as a “return of democracy” in the hills.
There was an unwritten law in the hills that political power would be solely concentrated in the GJM and in successive polls its candidates had won without a contest. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has certainly been able to change that perception by her untiring efforts in the hills, often disregarding the might of Gurung and his belligerent men. In the past six years, Didi has visited the hills over a record 50 times.
Political circles in Bengal admit that a party from the plains, for instance the Congress or the CPM, had existed in the hills at least three decades ago. The Gorkhaland agitation under Subash Ghisingh of GNLF in the ‘80s had wiped out CPM and others from Darjeeling hills.
One miscalculation Mamata Banerjee had done was in Kalimpong where she split from GJM rebel leader Dr Harka Bahadur Chhetri, who formed the Jana Andolan Party (JAP), during the last state assembly polls and fought independently.
The triangular fight in Kalimpong between JAP, TMC-GNLF combine and the GJM obviously gave the GJM an edge. In this municipal poll, too, the results show that vote split between JAP and TMC had given GJM 18 out of 22 seats in Kalimpong.
The other misadventure Mamata Banerjee did in Darjeeling was sending some MLAs from the plains during the campaign, who had little knowledge about the hill people’s psyche.
One of them had said during the campaign that after the polls the TMC would go to the hills with 32 boxes and send 32 GJM leaders packing out of Darjeeling. The hill people read the “boxes” as “coffin boxes” and many were angry at such ugly tone and tenor of a campaign pitch.
Some political observers from the hills feel that without such a blunder, the TMC could have done better even in Darjeeling municipality.
Trinamool Congress’ winning streak in the plains was on expected lines. But the highlight was the manner in which the Left, particularly the CPM, was wiped out in this election, having virtually failed to open an account in any of the seven municipalities.
Domkal municipality in Murshidabad was under the control of the CPM-led Left Front for several terms. Even in the last state assembly polls, CPM MLA Anisur Rahman had held his ground here, having won the battle against young and rising TMC leader Soumik Hossain. But the Trinamool Congress wrested it this time having bagged 18 out of the 21 municipal wards.
The result in Domkal had another message. The Congress and the CPM had put up candidates here through mutual understanding. Significantly, it is also the home district of the West Bengal Pradesh Congress chief Adhir Chowdhury.
No sooner the results were out than the two Congress and one CPM candidate, who had won, switched over to the Trinamool Congress camp. It once again reiterated the fact that this incongruous soft alliance between the Congress and CPM in Bengal may never be acceptable to the voters.
If it was a blow to the Congress in Domkol, similar was its fate in Raigang – the home turf of Deepa Das Munshi. The Trinamool Congress here wrested the municipality from the Congress after about 15 years and demolished the Congress stronghold.
The final significant indicator of this poll results appears to be the emergence of the BJP as the second political force in Bengal. The party won some isolated municipal wards in Riganj and Pujali municipalities.
In Pujali, significantly, it won two wards, and in 14 wards BJP came on second position. By virtue of its alliance with the GJM in the hills, BJP will definitely turn out to be the second in the running in this poll.
(The author, a senior journalist based in Kolkata, can be reached at email@example.com)