The seven municipalities, that recently went to the polls, represent a fraction of the total number of local bodies in West Bengal. And yet the latest exercise has unmistakably thrown up certain critical trends. Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress has reasons to preen its feathers for having succeeded ~ for the first time ~ in establishing its foothold in the Hills.
The party has won the election in Mirik, and it is pretty obvious that its upgrade to a sub-division ~ carved out of Kurseong ~ has yielded dividend at the hustings. Markedly, the party has avoided a bout of euphoria over the triumph in Mirik, amidst the debate over whether it is part of the Hills or the plains. While its topography need not detain us, suffice it to register that this is the first time that a party from the plains has made a dent in the Gorkha citadel ~ 30 years after the upheaval for statehood was ignited. Having said that, it needs to be underlined that in the larger canvas of the Darjeeling Hills, the performance of the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha has been spectacular as far as optics go ~ 31 out of 32 seats in Darjeeling municipality; 19 out of 23 seats in Kalimpong (very recently upgraded to a district); and 17 out of 20 in Kurseong.
A multi-party system in the region, as Miss Banerjee advocates, still seems to be a long way away; yet the Chief Minister can draw comfort from the fact that she has neutralised ~ if to a limited extent ~ the morcha’s monolithic supremacy. In parallel, she will have to accept that the multiplicity of development boards, representing a bevy of ethnic groups, has not tilted the scales in favour of Trinamul in the larger perspective. A crucial test lies ahead, specifically the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration elections in August. A huge responsibility therefore devolves on the likes of Bimal Gurung; he will have to make the GTA functional as a loose federal arrangement.
Quite the most striking psephological swing in the rest of the state was noticed in Raiganj (North Bengal), where Trinamul has improved its tally from five in 2011 to 24 in a 27-seat municipality. With the Congress tally down to two, the party has lost its last bastion in this part of the state. Indeed, it is out of power in the 23 municipalities of North Bengal. The party’s performance has been equally dismal in Murshidabad, its traditional stronghold. Trinamul has won 20 of the 21 seats in the first election in Domkal, where the Left-Congress combine has been reduced to the also-ran category, not dissimilar to the predicament of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Raiganj (one seat) and Pujali in South 24- Parganas (one seat). From the Hills to the plains, there has been a distinct division of spoils between the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha and the Trinamul Congress.