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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Whither West Bengal: Is Communist Citadel Crumbling?

West Bengal has been an impregnable Leftist fortress for over a quarter century but there is a feeling in this election that the Communists are losing ground in the State.

Though in earlier elections also, especially when Mamata Banerji formed her Mahajot, there were similar speculations. However, the difference is that even Communist leaders are feeling that there is a sense of disenchantment with the CPI (M) among section of voters.

For decades the rural populace strongly voted for the Communists. They had benefited from the land reforms and Jyoti Basu enjoyed an uninterrupted reign in the State for decades.

But the industrialisation efforts of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee received a jolt with the mishandling of situation in Nandigram. The farmers feared that land, their prized possession, would be taken over.

Besides, Muslims, who form 25% strong population in the state, are also unhappy, as they realise they haven't received adequate attention. The Bengali Muslim's share in government jobs remain abysmally low. [Photo: Congress candidate from Malda, Mausam Benazir Noor, the niece of late ABA Ghani Khan Chaudhary tries to beat the heat]

The findings of Sachar Commission were a wakeup call for Muslims. Despite repeated promises there was no development in areas dominated by Muslims and Urdu was not accorded the status of official languages in the districts where Urdu-speakers are predominant.

The fact that unlike other states, West Bengal (and Assam) have more Muslims in rural areas than urban agglomerations, can cause further trouble for Communists. The strong anti-incumbency after decades of rule can be damaging.

Star News' latest opinion poll

However, the Left can still tide over it. The latest Opinion Poll [Star TV-AC Nielson survey for Lok Sabha elections 2009] predict that Communists may just manage their hold in WB.

It gives 22 seats of CPI-M and its allies including Forward Bloc while Trinamool and Congress will together get 20 seats. The BJP remains a non-entity in the state. Also, CPI (M) will not be as major a party as it was in the Lok Sabha.

The poll says that after Congress (155) and BJP (147), the largest parties will be Samajwadi Party (28) and BSP (26). As a block, the Leftists--CPM, CPI, RSP and FB will get 35 seats from West Bengal, Tripura and Kerala.

Mamta may get benefited with the alliance. But the fact remains that shifting of Tata's Nano project hasn't gone well with the voters either. [The poll shows 202 seats for UPA, 191 for NDA, 102 for Third Front and 39 for Fourth Front (RJD-SP-LJP)]

This is going to be a setback for the Marxists. But it seems that they will manage to retain the state somehow. Is it because of the reason that the West Bengal doesn't want to go with the rest?

Bengali bhadraloke loves rejecting mainstream parties

Bengal has a strong identity. It had a renaissance unlike other states and gave the nation legendary reformist personalities like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Rabindra Nath Tagore, Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Subhas Chanra Bose and Kazi Nazrul Islam.

And we are all too aware of the saying 'What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow'. The Bengali has a strong sense of culture and identity. The bhadraloke has refined tastes and loves to be a rebel.

It is this romance with the rebellion that perhaps prompt the West Bengal voter to remain different from the rest of the country by voting for a party that doesn't have much popularity in other parts of the nation, especially Delhi. After the Congress government had sternly dealt with radical youths during the Naxalbari movement.

Or it is the rejection of the mainstream parties that gives a sense of satisfaction to Bengal. Probably it is this tendency of the voter to rebuff the Congress and the BJP that may just help Communists survive another Parliamentary election.