Civic polls are usually fought on ultra-local issues, these polls hardly capture headlines except reinforcing the writ of the ruling parties.
At the state level, the victory of All India Trinamool Congress in the West Bengal municipal elections confirms the party’s hegemony, signals the breaking of “hill barrier”, portrays the Left and Congress as inconsequential forces and lays the roadmap for a still-nascent BJP.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee announces “new era in the hills”, says the Trinamool Congress will work sincerely. “The hills are smiling,” she says.
The ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) has won the municipal elections in West Bengal, winning majority of the seats in four out of seven bodies. The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) and BJP combine won the remaining three municipal bodies. However, TMC made inroads in the hills by winning the Mirik municipality.
The seven municipalities which went to polls are Kurseong, Darjeeling and Mirik in Darjeeling district: Kalimpong in the newly announced Kalimpong district: Pujali in South 24 Parganas district: Raiganj in North Dinajpur district: and Domkal municipality in Murshidabad district.
TMC has won Pujali, Raiganj, Domkal and Mirik while GJM-BJP combine has bagged Kurseong, Darjeeling and Kalimpong.
More importantly, at the national level, the victory provides the beleaguered opposition parties with a platform to take on BJP’s pan-Indian dominance.
The picture that emerges is one of an opposition-in-disarray, concerned more with its own survival than mounting a worthwhile political challenge to BJP’s hegemony. This is where Mamata Banerjee’s domination carries a deeper significance.
The West Bengal chief minister has promised to “uproot BJP from Delhi” for having the audacity to throw a challenge at her. Hidden in the rhetoric is the supreme confidence Mamata has in her abilities to protect her backyard from an aggressive BJP’s advances.
The results of the municipal elections also point towards BJP’s failure to establish themselves as an alternative to the ruling TMC. BJP has received a setback as it has managed to win just three seats – two of the total 16 in Pujali and one out of 27 in Raiganj.
BJP had campaigned aggressively for the municipal elections which were held on May 14, though amidst complains of violence and booth-capturing. The opposition parties had demanded scrapping of the municipal elections.The polls were marred by unprecedented violence in which many political workers, across parties, were injured.
The opposition,Left, Congress and BJP ,laid siege at the State Election Commissioner’s door and Congress petitioned the High Court urging for repoll in the three areas. There was no relief forthcoming either from the SEC or the HC, which on Wednesday threw out Congress’s petition.
The party ruling at the Centre has launched a multi-pronged strategy to register an impressive performance in the 2019 lok Sabha elections. In a bid to strengthen the organization, BJP president Amit Shah had toured West Bengal to launch ‘Vistar Yatra’ in Naxalbari on April 25.
BJP has been attacking Mamata Banerjee and TMC over the corruption cases and law and order issues. It harped on scams like Narada, Sarada and Rose Valley. With senior TMC leaders such as Sudip Banerjee and Tapas Pal behind the bars, BJP highlighted the corruption by the ruling party during Mamata Banerjee’s regime.
However, these efforts seem to have made no mark in the municipal elections.
At a national level, Mamata may now attempt a coalition of opposition forces and take the lead in defining its strategies. Electoral victories have washed away the taint of Saradha and Narada scams and conferred upon Mamata a political and moral ascendancy that she will look to exploit to the hilt.
“The way Mamata Banerjee has repeatedly visited the hills and interacted with the people is remarkable. People have naturally supported us,” says Trinamool Congress secretary general and education minister Partha Chatterjee.
This victory of Trinamool was expected. The party that ruled Bengal for 34 years did not go to the hills. Forget the chief minister, even ministers did not visit the hills,” he said.
“This is a historic victory. It belongs to the people of the hills and chief minister Mamata Banerjee. A mainstream political party winning a civic body in the hills after three decades is historic indeed”,said Gautam Deb, tourism minister and TMC president of Darjeeling district