Kolkata: The Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC) won 18,606 gram panchayat seats and was leading in another 8,180 seats till 9 pm Tuesday, according to State Election Commission (SEC) data. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the CPI(M)-Congress alliance continued to square off for the position of a distant second.
A total of 63,229 gram panchayat seats in West Bengal went to the polls Saturday.
Political analyst Bishwanath Chakraborty told ThePrint that while the numbers were stacked in favour of the TMC, “the results should not be taken as the ultimate people’s mandate because of the violence witnessed on polling day”.
According to results available till 9 pm, the BJP secured 4,482 seats and was leading in 2,419, while the CPI(M) won 1,424 seats and was leading in 922. The Congress, which contested the panchayat polls alongside the Left, won 1,073 seats and was leading in 693.
Barely two years ago, the Left-Congress combine had failed to win a single seat in the West Bengal assembly elections, which paved the way for Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s third consecutive stint in power.
Sources in the SEC told ThePrint that counting for zilla parishad seats and panchayat samiti seats was yet to begin as of 9 pm, since counting for the more than 63,000 gram panchayat seats was a time-consuming process owing to the involvement of ballot papers.
With less than a year to go for the general election, the ruling TMC, the BJP, the Left and the Congress have been eyeing the popular mandate in rural parts of West Bengal, which sends a total of 42 MPs to Parliament — third highest among all states.
The panchayat polls are being seen as a litmus test for the TMC, which made allocation of central funds to the state a key poll plank, and the BJP, which is looking to consolidate its support at the grassroots by playing up the alleged role of TMC leaders in various scams.
Opposition parties in the state have been crying foul over security arrangements for the Panchayat polls, alleging that widespread vote rigging took place and Central Armed Police Forces personnel, deployed in the state, were found absent in multiple seats.
Leader of the Opposition Suvendu Adhikari told reporters Tuesday that the BJP has approached the Calcutta High Court with a demand for re-polling in at least 6,000 polling stations where “free and fair polls were not conducted”.
“The petition has proof from all these polling stations where some sort of obstruction was created. The matter will come up for hearing before the Chief Justice’s bench tomorrow. We failed to receive any response from the State Election Commission and the high court was our last resort,” said the BJP MLA from Nandigarm.
Referring to instances of poll-related violence reported from across the state, CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty told ThePrint, “If the Trinamool wanted to flex muscle and win the rural polls in this manner, they shouldn’t have conducted elections in the first place. They could have directly taken over the gram panchayats, at least then there would be no bloodshed.”
At least 10 people died during polling for the panchayat elections Saturday.
According to Bishwanath Chakraborty, “Polling agents of opposition parties were threatened and were not allowed inside counting stations even on counting day.”
Refuting charges against the TMC of unleashing violence against opposition candidates and their families, party spokesperson Kunal Ghosh said, “They are sensing defeat and making baseless allegations. The BJP is making excuses to hide its own organisational failure.”
On the TMC’s dominance in Congress bastions of Murshidabad, Malda and North Dinajpur, Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury — who set up camp in Murshidabad for the polls, alleged that there was a tacit understanding between the central leadership of the BJP and the TMC that helped the ruling party in West Bengal secure more ballots.
Of the 5,591 gram panchayat seats in Murshidabad, the TMC won 1,441 seats, the Congress 595, the CPI(M) 302 and the BJP 249 seats as of 9 pm.
In 2013, the TMC had swept local body polls with over two-third majority, followed by the Left and Congress as distant runners-up. Five years later, the 2018 panchayat polls marked a change in West Bengal politics with the BJP emerging as a force to reckon with.
The TMC won 38,118 gram panchayat seats in 2018, followed by the BJP with 5,779 seats — many of them in tribal belts of northern and southern Bengal which include Lok Sabha seats such as Alipurduar, Jalpaiguri and Jhargram. The CPI(M) and Congress were decimated, garnering only 12 percent and 3.6 percent of the total votes polled respectively.
In nearly all gram panchayat seats, the BJP had emerged as the runners-up. This was reflected in the outcome of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in which the BJP increased its tally to 18 from a meagre two it won in 2014. With 69 MLAs, the BJP continues to be the principal opposition party in the West Bengal Legislative Assembly.
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)