Panchayat poll: Blow to land acquisition policy

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Kolkata, May 22 : The just concluded panchayat polls in West Bengal have dealt a major blow to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's policy of acquiring farmland for his much-hyped industrial drive.

The outcome of the rural elections also indicates that large section of Muslims has turned against the ruling Marxists for the state government's failure to improve their lot as evident from the Sachar committee report. The poll result has conclusively enhanced the stature of Trinamul Congress chairperson Mamata Banerjee who almost single-handedly fought the CPI(M)-sponsored terror. The reverses suffered by the Bengal CPI(M) are likely to affect Left Front unity as major Front partners like the RSP and the Forward Bloc are certain to intensify their political offensive against the "Big Brother."

The humiliating defeats suffered by the Marxists at Singur and Nandigram have clearly proved that there is some thing seriously wrong with the government's farmland acquisition policy. CPI(M) strongman in Haldia and party MP Lakshman Seth, who had tried his level best to ensure the victory of his party nominees in East Midnapore, has held "a vilification campaign by the media" responsible for the poll reverses.

A district-wise review of the results of Zilla Parishad and Panchayat Samiti elections indicates surprise gains for Trinamul Congress which did not fare well in the last Assembly polls. The principal opposition party has captured two Zilla Parishads-in South 24 Parganas and East Midnapore which happen to be CPI(M) strongholds. Trinamul Congress and the Congress have also swept the Panchayat Samiti elections in districts like Nadia and North 24 Parganas and done more or less well in Howrah.

The Congress, on its part, has retained the Malda Zilla Parishad and wrested North Dinajpur from the CPI(M), but lost Murshadabad to the Left Front mainly due to the party's factional feud in the district. The Marxists' strongholds have remained intact in north Bengal districts like Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar as well as tribal-infested ones like Bankura and Purulia. The Maoists' threat in West Midnapore has also proved to be a non-starter with the CPI(M) succeeding in maintaining its sway over the district.

A major fallout of the rural polls will be an increase in the Trinamul Congress chairperson's bargaining power vis- -vis the Congress. Ms Banerjee, who has been consciously keeping a distance from the state BJP to win over the minority community, is still wary of the Congress high command's relationship with the Marxists.

She has not totally ruled out the possibility of her party joining hands with the Congress to prevent the CPI(M) from capturing Village Panchayat and Panchayat Samiti boards. However, at the same time she expects the Congress high command not to "specially treat the ruling Marxists in Bengal."

She has already decided to launch a no-holds-bar movement against the state government over its land acquisition policy and intends to put greater pressure on the Centre to take firm action against the Marxists "for indulging in terror and violence."

The poll reverses will prompt the Bengal CPI(M) to rethink its policy vis- -vis major Left Front partners like the RSP and the Forward Bloc. The RSP has succeeded in inflicting defeats on the CPI(M) nominees at Basanti in South 24 Parganas which witnessed unprecedented violence on the election day. Similarly, Forward Bloc has snatched a number of seats from the "Big Brother" in Cooch Behar and Howrah. The Marxists are naturally under pressure to soften its stand regarding the two Front partners if they want to keep the coalition intact.

The state CPI(M) will also have to deal with the party's internal dissension which has taken a heavy toll in North 24 Parganas. Transport minister and the chief minister's main detractor Subhas Chakraborty has blamed the party's farmland acquisition policy for the electoral setbacks. "Why was the state administration so keen to acquire agricultural land for the Tatas' small car project at Singur? Once we had taken part in a movement against the Tatas. Our policy of land acquisition has certainly sent a wrong signal to the poor peasants," he observed. By Gautam Ghosh


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