Friday, May 23, 2008

The ABP group's take on the Panchayat elections two days after the counting

The Telegraph

Policy at risk, not politics Govt faces twin thorns

Bengal’s panchayat poll results have thrown up fewer surprises than would immediately strike one. That the CPM would suffer major reverses and the Trinamul Congress make some gains, especially in Nandigram and Singur, was always on the cards.

The real surprise is that the Nandigram-Singur wave did not sweep the Marxists off their feet in larger parts of Bengal. Even so, the results could mean much trouble for Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and his party.

No one can grudge Mamata Banerjee her moments with rasogollas. But, the sweets notwithstanding, the results could not have come without a sour taste too. After all, these were no mere Nandigram-Singur elections.

After she and the CPM had given their customary responses to the results, they could look at the political map of Bengal and see how little has changed. There is still the Hooghly river dividing the areas of influence — the west of the river is CPM territory and the much smaller part in its east, part of south Bengal, is hers. One has only to recall the patterns of the last few elections to see how familiar the picture is.

In fact, the overall Bengal picture — the CPM winning 13 of the 17 zilla parishads — hardly indicates that this is the “beginning of the CPM’s end”, as Mamata has put it one more time.

The CPM’s critics would actually be disappointed with the results. These rural polls came at the crest of a wave of protests that featured issues ranging from the police firing and the Marxists’ terror tactics at Nandigram to the government’s bungling of one issue after another, especially the Rizwanur Rahman case, and the CPM’s isolation from its partners and Left liberals.

Also, between Nandigram and Rizwanur, the anti-CPM mood swayed Bengal’s large Muslim masses as on few occasions before.

Rarely in recent decades has Bengal seen such long and bitter spells of popular protests against the CPM. If Mamata and other opponents of the CPM have failed to make big benefits from this political upheaval beyond East Midnapore (courtesy Nandigram), Singur, South 24-Parganas and North Dinajpur (courtesy a new star on the horizon called Deepa Das Munshi), it does not spell very high hopes for the coming collapse of the CPM.

That is not to say, though, that the Marxists will be at peace with these results. They will have much to worry about the spread effect of these results in terms of space and time. More so because the next big battle they face — the Lok Sabha polls — is approaching.

The biggest and immediate worry for them, though, may not be the end of their rule in Bengal and with that their newfound role in Delhi, but the difficulty Bhattacharjee may face in governance.

Benoy Konar and other CPM leaders who said the results would have no impact on Bengal’s industrialisation were clearly trying to put a brave face on the Nandigram effect. The chief minister and his party would know how difficult it would be for them to push the industrial agenda, at least before the parliamentary polls.

It’s not just Mamata who would try and do everything to push her Nandigram advantage. It is possible that she will move into areas where land acquisition for new industries has been smooth so far and raise new battle cries. One such front could be in her newly acquired South 24-Parganas, where villagers have reached a consensus on giving their land for a ship-building project.

And, she would be encouraged to open new fronts in places like Burdwan, where she could take her “not an inch of farmland” cry to even state projects such as the proposed thermal power plant at Katwa.

Bhattacharjee will also have to face two sets of old adversaries on a new scale. His critics within the party, some leaders in Bengal and at the central committee, will now try to tie his hands even more than they had done before.

He — and the CPM — are sure to be under fresh pressure from parties like the RSP and the Forward Bloc. These partners have nothing to lose and much to gain from halting Bhattacharjee’s big leap forward for industrialisation. Such pressures may not be limited to issues of industrialisation — they will have their impact on other policy issues, the retail business and private investment in agriculture, for example.

It would thus be reasonable to expect the political temperature in Bengal to keep rising till the parliamentary polls. And that could mean a couple of more bandhs, more violence in the districts and more of many other things that are no help to industrialisation.

Report from Anandabajar Partika :