While walking underneath the flyover in Kolkata’s Burrabazar market, the shade suddenly gives way to scorching sun. The flyover stops abruptly in the air and JCB machines are seen collecting debris on the other side of the road. Workers are busy atop the construction site, contributing to the resurrection of this collapsed flyover. Almost 20-25 shops in the vicinity are shut. Bystanders observe the proceedings behind barricades manned by the police to ensure they are at a safe distance. On March 31, a substantial chunk of this under-construction flyover gave way, killing 26 people.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Burrabazar, one of the largest wholesale markets in India which encapsulates old Calcutta, is fuming as the assembly elections are underway in West Bengal. “Mamata Banerjee stormed into power on the plank of Parivartan,” says Partho Banerjee, an engineer and a bystander at the site. “She speaks of transforming Kolkata into London. Is this how she plans to do it?”Yashwant Kumar, a cabbie parked at the corner of the market, says he interacts with his customers and most of them appear disillusioned with the TMC rule. “The flyover collapse, Narada sting and Saradha scam have transpired in quick successions,” he says. “It has put people off. Clearly, the government is plagued with corruption.”
ALSO READ West Bengal elections 2016: Ahead of phase five, 14 crude bombs recovered from Kolkata’s ChetlaDuring the initial days, when the campaigns first kicked off in West Bengal, it seemed Mamata Banerjee and TMC would run through the state. The Congress and Left had still been negotiating and Mamata’s political rhetoric largely went unchallenged. But the Left-Congress alliance has gained momentum as the elections have unfolded. This was palpable from Mamata’s softened tone at a recently held rally in Kolkata where she said she would have made amendments to her candidate list if the Narada sting had surfaced earlier. It was almost an admission of the authenticity of the tapes.
ALSO READ West Bengal elections 2016: Mamata Banerjee and other political heavyweights to contest in the fifth phase tomorrowYet, even after the disenchantment among urban voters, it should not come as a surprise if the TMC manages to win 7-8 seats out of 11 in the city of joy. The popularity of the Left among the aspirational urban middle class across the country is at an all-time low and the narrative is not dissimilar in Kolkata. The cities, say residents, were completely neglected under the Left rule, bringing in the TINA factor. “There is no major challenge to Mamata right now,” says Ali Haider, an exporter who has an office at Burrabazar. “We certainly do not want the Left to come back to power even though Mamata has not been too promising.”Experts believe the stings and scams may influence the fence sitters in urban areas, but not the core TMC supporters. In 2011, the TMC had comfortably bagged Kolkata constituencies with a vote share of 50%, or more. Thereby, the vote share would likely see a dip, but a dip in 50% is not enough to sway the number of seats.
ALSO READ West Bengal Elections Phase 5: Will Narada sting TMC’s great South Bengal firewall around Kolkata? Mamata still enjoys a cinch over her Bhawanipur constituency which goes to polls on April 30 in fifth phase of the assembly election. As a 29-year old, Mamata began her political rise from here in the 1984 Lok Sabha elections, when she announced her arrival with a famous win over CPI(M) heavyweight Somnath Chatterjee. She continues to live in the Kalighat area of the constituency and not at the Chief Minister’s bungalow, perhaps an attempt to send out a message of being connected to the roots.In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, which was stamped by the Modi wave, TMC enjoyed just over 39% of the vote share in Bengal. The Congress was down to 9% while CPI(M) managed 30%. With Left and Congress entering into a tactical alliance to stall the Mamata juggernaut, their added vote share is tied with TMC at 39%. The BJP got 17% in 2014, which, most say, would be down to 8-9%. Thereby, the swing of 8-9% of the vote share away from the BJP would be split between the alliance and TMC, seemingly deciding the outcome of the elections.In North Bengal’s districts of Malda, Murshidabad and North Dinajpur, the alliance appears to be gaining and is way ahead of the TMC. An overwhelmingly Muslim-dominated district, Malda has been a den of the Congress for a long time. This is largely due to much-revered leader Ghani Khan Chowdhury who passed away eight years ago but whose legacy continues to wield influence over the electorate. The TMC has hitherto not been able to breach the loyal Congress vote, and with the Congress now tying up with the Left, Malda seems to be in their pocket. In 9-10 of the 12 constituencies of the district, the Congress-Left alliance appears to be enjoying the upper hand.The TMC government’s indifferent response towards the law and order situation in Malda is interpreted by journalists and observers here as an attempt to garner more votes through religious polarisation, since the move to go out of the way and coax Madrasas does not seem to be cutting any ice. But the polarisation is not working in TMC’s favor.Similar is the story in Adhir Ranjan Chowdhary’s Murshidabad district, where Congress appears to be holding on to its bastion firmly.There are more than 40 constituencies in these three districts of North Bengal, out of which the alliance should get 85-90% of the seats.Among other districts of North Bengal, three constituencies out of the six in Darjeeling would likely go to the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, which is in alliance with the BJP. In Jalpaigudi and Cooch Behar, the fight between TMC and alliance is neck and neck.However, Mamata’s clout intensifies as one moves towards South Bengal. The tables turn in over 150 constituencies of districts like Hooghly, Kolkata, Howrah, North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas and East Medinipur, where the TMC is targeting 80% of the seats since their organisational strength has been robust here from the time of its inception.In rural areas especially, Mamata’s image does not seem to have been sullied by the stings and the flyover collapse. Villagers talk about the increased accessibility to their village due to widening and construction of roads, they refer to the Kanyashree program that provides scholarships to girls post class 10. Plus, Mamata has provided bicycles to school kids. A middle-aged man, sitting under a tree in a village south of Kolkata, says, “Electricity situation is better. Education avenues have increased. Many of the tribal and rural children have been encouraged and are first-generation students.”In spite of the momentum gained by the Left-Congress alliance, it seems the TMC could limp towards a majority. Independently, the Left and the Congress, both facing an existential crisis in West Bengal, would have languished around 20-25 seats each. Together, they should be able to cross the three-figure mark, which would be a significant step towards their revival.However, if indeed Mamata retains power, she has her task cut out in repairing the party’s image.The Left may be TMC’s biggest rival but they are united by accusations levelled against them. Threatening voters, rigging booths, extortion and corruption are only some of the charges the ruling government faces. Voters here often come up with guarded answers; many infer it as an outcome of the intimidation, making it tricky to judge which way the wind is blowing.Anubrata Mondal, TMC strongman in Birbhum, has been religiously violating the model code of conduct and has been served four show cause notices by the Election Commission. He is not the only one in the news for wrong reasons.With people who do not enjoy the trustworthiness of the electorate surrounding Mamata, the government is clouded by credibility crisis. This has ensured that the intellectuals are firmly in the anti-TMC corner. West Bengal’s most influential media group, Anand Bazar Patrika, has been vehemently anti-incumbency. The Telegraph’s headlines regularly mock and lambast the government. Mamata too has dragged ABP group into her political campaign rhetoric. At a recent rally, Mamata called ABP the “most destructive element in Bengal”.Rajat Roy, Kolkata-based senior journalist, who has been covering elections for decades, says no sane person can defend the kind of activities TMC politicians indulge in. “One must credit Mamata for ensuring the 34-year anti-incumbency of the Left is no longer that big a factor,” he says sarcastically. “Mamata has been indifferent about the security of women as well. There is lawlessness in Bengal.”In a nutshell, the West Bengal elections has been reduced to a contest between the anti-incumbency of five years versus that of 34 years. Even the editor of Maa Mati Manush, one of the mouthpieces of TMC, concedes this point. Debashish Bhattacharya, a veteran journalist now heading the mouthpiece, lists out the negative and positive features of the TMC government with relative objectivity. If the TMC comes to power despite the tactical alliance of two major parties, would it be because of Mamata’s aura or would it boil down to the anti-incumbency of the Left regime? Pat comes the reply, “Mainly the anti-incumbency of the Left.”
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