AVIJIT SINHA, TT, Siliguri, May 19: The Trinamul wave that roared across south Bengal in previous elections today swept the north, bringing to the party’s kitty 24 of the 54 seats in a region that traditionally housed Left and Congress strongholds.
The reason for Mamata’s success in north Bengal are several, according to party leaders and political observers. They said Mamata chose to nurture north Bengal, where people had for a long time felt that previous Left governments in Calcutta had not cared for the region.
North Bengal has seven small districts that count 54 Assembly seats in total, significantly lesser than the 240 Assembly constituencies in the south. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Trinamul had led in eight Assembly segments.
Among the steps Mamata took were her frequent trips to the region, coupled with the creation of a north Bengal development department to which Rs 1,800 crore was allocated for infrastructure projects in five years.
“Didi created a separate department for north Bengal, established a mini-secretariat and repeatedly visited the districts. No other chief minister has done this,” said Gautam Deb, the north Bengal development minister who retained his seat with over 23,000 votes.
In her election campaigns Mamata repeatedly stressed the number of times she had visited north Bengal and appealed to voters to give her a chance to serve them.
Deb said north Bengal residents no longer felt deprived by the government.
Although Mamata’s nominee Bhaichung Bhutia lost from the Siliguri seat, the party had reasons to smile today.
Out of the nine Assembly seats in the tea garden belt, Trinamul won four for the first time making its presence felt. This when Trinamul does not have a strong trade union presence in the tea belt.
A slew of measures taken by the government such as subsidised food grains for the closed tea garden workers, revision of wages for the garden labourers and setting up of a separate tribal welfare department helped Trinamul in Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar, both with sizeable tribal populations.
“During Left rule, the wage hike would be a mere Rs 5-7 every three years, but Didi increased it by Rs 27. This had a clear impact,” said a Trinamul source.
A senior Trinamul leader in Jalpaiguri said the support of the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad, an apolitical outfit with clout in the tea tribal belt, also helped the ruling party. “The Adivasi Vikas Parishad issued a call in our favour,” he said.
Trinamul won four seats in the newly-created district of Alipurduar, eight in Cooch Behar and six in Jalpaiguri.
According to sources, the “friendly fights” between the Congress and the Left parties in Murshidabad had a ripple effect in the north districts where the CPM’s junior partners, the Forward Bloc and the RSP, have a sizeable presence.
“The alliance was between the CPM and the Congress, not with us,” said a senior RSP leader, making it clear that his party was not on the same page as the CPM on making a one-to-one fight with Trinamul in majority of the seats.
“Though our senior leaders gave the call, our allies did not listen. We will raise this in our performance report,” said a CPM leader from Jalpaiguri, where the Left could not win a single seat.
“In Cooch Behar district, where Trinamul secured eight of the nine seats, the support base of the Left and Congress had declined to the bare minimum. The trend of a sweep was evident after the 2014 Parliament elections when Trinamul secured leads in eight of the nine Assembly segments. A similar trend was seen in Jalpaiguri in 2014 when Trinamul, despite losing to the Left in the 2013 panchayat polls of the district, could secure the Lok Sabha seat,” a political observer said.
A senior CPM leader, when asked about their shortcomings, said the alliance did not work at all levels in Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar and North Dinajpur. “Also, there were inner differences among our allies, particularly with the RSP and the Forward Bloc in Cooch Behar,” he said.
“We are yet to analyse the results in a comprehensive manner but considering the trends, we apprehend that in many seats, the Congress leaders could not get their entire support base on board to vote for the Left candidates,” the CPM leader added. “But we could get all our votes to favour the Congress which helped the party retain 16 of the 17 seats it had won in 2011,” he added.
“Had the alliance worked in a full-fledged manner, the results would have been favourable for us like it happened in Malda and Darjeeling districts,” the CPM leader said.
Trinamul, however, had to face loss of seats in South Dinajpur where the party’s tally reduced to two seats from five that the party had won in 2011. This time, the Left-Congress alliance managed to bag four seats, including seats of three standing MLAs and most prominent leaders of the district.