Kolkata, July 29;West Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress was steadily marching towards a big victory by picking up most of the gram panchayats in the rural polls, counting for which began Monday in the biggest test of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s popularity since she came to power two years back.
The Trinamool has won or is on the verge of winning majority of the gram panchayats (the lowest level of the three-tier rural council system) in 12 of the 17 districts of the state.
The opposition Communist Party of India (Marxist)- led Left Front, which had established its dominance in 13 districts in the previous elections held in 2008, has won majority of the gram panchayats in only one —— Jalpaiguri in northern Bengal.
Purulia district was seeing a close fight between the Trinamool and the LF, with the former slightly ahead.
The Congress was seen to be bagging more than half of the panchayats in its citadel Murshidabad, and was involved in a tough three-way race with the Trinamool and the Left Front in its other strongholds Malda and North Dinjapur.
With counting over in about sixty percent of the gram panchayats, the Mamata magic seems to be intact in majority of the districts.
The Trinamool was far ahead of its rivals in its belt of south Bengal, where it was picking up more than 50 percent of the panchyats in nine of the ten districts, except Nadia. In Murshidabad, where Trinamool hardly had a base five years back, it made inroads in some of the gram panchayats.
The Trinamool also seemed to be maintaining its stranglehold over Singur of Hooghy district and East Midnapore’s Nandigram, two rural areas where sustained and often violent farmers’ protests led by the party against the then LF government’s bid to acquire agricultural land for industries had paid it rich dividends.
The Trinamool rode on the success of the movements in Singur and Nandigram to gain in strength and ultimately unseated the LF in 2011.
The LF, which was hoping for revival of its fortunes in some of the districts, suffered rude jolts in the former red forts of Burdwan, Bankura, Birbhum, North 24 Parganas, West Midnapore, Cooceh Behar and Hooghly.
The massive democractic exercise with 1.69 lakh candidates in the fray — around 90,000 of them women — has 58,865 seats are up for grabs.
There are in all 755 zilla parishad (district councils) constituencies spread over 17 zilla parishads, 8,864 panchayat samity constituencies in 341 panchayat samities and 36,016 gram panchayat constituencies in 3,354 gram panchayats.
In the 2008 elections, the LF bagged 13 zilla parishads, followed by Congress and the Trinamool with two each.
As the counting process continued, the CPI (M) alleged that many of its counting agents were driven away from the counting centres allegedly by Trinamool strongmen.
Incidentally the Trinamool has already won over 6,000 seats uncontested.
On the other hand, state Parliamentary Affairs Minister Partha Chatterjee said the people have given a befitting reply to the opposition LF and the Congress.
“They joined hands in constantly attacking Mamata Banerjee and spreading canards against her and our party. Now, they are nowhere to be seen in the state’s political map.”
At least 24 people were killed during the five phased polls which began July 11, but no untoward incident, according to police, has taken place yet during counting.