West Bengal

Urban Bengal Is Turning Away From TMC And Mamata Banerjee's Outreach Is Unlikely To Work

Jaideep Mazumdar

Jun 12, 2024, 03:18 PM | Updated 03:18 PM IST

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. 
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. 
  • Urban population in Bengal is distancing Itself from Trinamool, and Mamata Banerjee's attempts at outreach seem ineffective.
  • The Trinamool Congress may have bagged 29 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats from Bengal this time, but the steady erosion of support in urban and semi-urban areas is posing a big challenge for the party. 

    A close analysis of the results of the just-concluded Lok Sabha elections reveals that the BJP secured leads in a majority of the wards in 60 per cent of the 125 municipalities and municipal corporations in the state. All but one of these 125 municipal bodies are, however, run by the Trinamool Congress.

    This means that a large section of the urban population is turning away from the Trinamool. The reason for this, admit party seniors, is perceived misgovernance and the widespread impression that the Trinamool is a corrupt party. 

    The disenchantment with the Trinamool Congress and growing support for the BJP in urban and semi-urban areas became evident in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections when the BJP won 18 Lok Sabha seats. 

    An analysis of the results that year shows that the BJP secured leads in about 40 per cent of the wards of at least 50 per cent urban bodies in the state. 

    The trend continued in the 2021 assembly elections which the Trinamool swept, winning 215 of the 294 seats in the state legislature. But Mamata Banerjee’s party lost in many wards of urban bodies even in the assembly seats it bagged. 

    This time, too, the Trinamool fared poorly in a majority of the wards in 125 urban civic bodies in the state. 

    In the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC), for instance, the BJP secured leads in 45 of the 144 wards in the state capital. In the 2021 KMC elections, the BJP had won only three wards. 

    The BJP also got a lead in a majority of the wards in Bidhannagar (Salt Lake) Municipal Corporation this time, even though the Trinamool Congress won 39 of the 41 wards in the 2022 civic polls. 

    The Trinamool’s Arup Chakraborty wrested the Bankura Lok Sabha seat from the BJP this time, though by a very modest margin of 32,778 votes. But the BJP got a lead in 21 of the 24 wards under Bankura municipality in Bankura town. 

    Similarly, though Trinamool’s Kalipada Saren won the Jhargram Lok Sabha seat this time by over 1.74 lakh votes, the BJP got a lead in most of the wards in Jhargram municipality. 

    The same was the case with the Hooghly Lok Sabha seat which the Trinamool’s Rachna Banerjee won back for the party from BJP’s Locket Chatterjee. But the BJP won in most of the wards of Chuchura, the main city and headquarters of Hooghly district. 

    In Bolpur, another seat where the Trinamool Congress candidate won by a large margin of 3.27 lakh votes, the BJP bagged most of the votes cast in 16 of the 22 wards of Bolpur municipality. 

    This happened in the urban segments of at least 15 of the 29 Lok Sabha seats that the Trinamool Congress won this time. 

    In six other urban Lok Sabha seats that the Trinamool won, the BJP fared well in many segments. Even in many pockets of Mamata Banerjee’s assembly constituency of Bhabanipur that falls in the Kolkata South Lok Sabha seat, the BJP trounced the Trinamool Congress. 

    The primary reasons for a large segment of the urban populace turning against the Trinamool are the perceived corruption of the scam-tainted party, urban disenchantment with poor governance and many civic issues, rampant extortions by Trinamool cadres and Trinamool-backed miscreants and issues of lack of decent jobs, failure of the Mamata Banerjee government to attract big-ticket investments and financial mismanagement. 

    “Issues that have worked in favour of the Trinamool like the many welfare measures (Lakshmir Bhandar etc) have very little impact in urban areas. Urban folks are mostly not beneficiaries. The issue of non-disbursal of funds by the Union government for various welfare measures like PM Awas Yojana, the MGNREGA etc that we made into a big one this time had little resonance in urban areas,” a senior Trinamool leader who is also a cabinet minister told Swarajya

    But that only partly explains urban disenchantment with the Trinamool.

    “People are fed up with endemic corruption and the Trinamool’s patronage of extortionists and syndicates in urban areas. The perception that the Trinamool is very corrupt and its leaders are involved in many scams is very strong in urban areas,” said BJP Rajya Sabha MP Samik Bhattacharya. 

    BJP’s firebrand leader Suvendu Adhikari told Swarajya that this analysis also proves that the Trinamool wins elections by rigging.

    “The Trinamool cannot rig elections in urban areas, but does so in rural areas. So it wins in many rural areas. If elections are free and fair in Bengal, the Trinamool will even lose its deposits in most seats,” he said. 

    “We won rural seats also like Purulia and Raiganj. The Trinamool couldn’t rig elections in those seats because we were very vigilant. But in other seats where we did not have enough ground workers and could not resist the Trinamool’s rigging and the blatantly biassed role played by the state administration and the police, the Trinamool won,” said Adhikari. 

    The alleged rigging by the Trinamool is a major factor that fuels resentment against the ruling party in urban areas. “Urban folks are mostly educated and aware and get outraged very easily over reports of rigging. This outrage finds expression in the ballot,” admitted a former Trinamool functionary who distanced himself from the party on matters of principle a few years ago. 

    This former Trinamool functionary, who was quite close to Mamata Banerjee when the Left Front was in power in the state, took the example of Bidhannagar where the civic elections in 2022 were marred by widespread rigging. 

    “The Trinamool won the municipal elections and formed the board, but the middle class voter in Bidhannagar (Salt Lake) continued to be angry and remembered the rigging while voting this time. That’s why the Trinamool lost in most of the wards that it had bagged just two years ago,” he added. 

    Trinamool leaders also admit that lack of decent jobs in the state which forces a large majority of educated youngsters to go to other states is also contributing to urban disenchantment with the Trinamool. 

    “We may say massive investments are coming in and jobs are being created. But the reality is that very few white-collar and skilled jobs are being created and most educated young people are going to Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai, Pune, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Gurugram and other cities to work. We may say that everything is fine in Bengal, but the urban middle class travels out of Bengal and is fully aware of the dismal ground realities here,” said a former Trinamool Rajya Sabha member. 

    Alarmed over the erosion of urban support, Trinamool Congress chairperson Mamata Banerjee has been meeting a number of party managers from the areas where her party fared poorly this time. 

    Banerjee has asked Kolkata Mayor and Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim to study the reasons behind the party trailing behind the BJP in many wards of the city. Other leaders have also been asked to examine this phenomena in their respective areas. 

    Simultaneously, the Trinamool is also preparing a massive outreach to the urban populace in the state. A senior Trinamool leader who is also a Rajya Sabha member quoted Mamata Banerjee as saying recently that the support of the urban folks is necessary. 

    “The urban folks are opinion makers and play an outsized role in the state’s polity. It is not good that they are turning against us. One of the reasons for the Left’s downfall in Bengal is the erosion of support among the urban folks. Nandigram and Singur turned the urban people and intellectuals against the Left Front, leading to their eventual defeat,” Banerjee is learnt to have told her top aides while underlying the necessity to win back the support of the urban middle class. 

    But the Trinamool’s urban outreach is unlikely to have much effect. That’s because the party’s image has been permanently tainted by the many scams that its leaders have been embroiled in. 

    Also, as Suvendu Adhikari pointed out, the Trinamool Congress cannot dissociate itself from its musclemen and the criminals and syndicates it patronises. 

    “The moment the Trinamool cuts ties with its goons and criminals, it will lose power. Its ties with criminals and anti-socials is like an umbilical cord. It cannot survive without their support. The Trinamool can never change and become honest because almost everyone in the party or associated with it is corrupt and benefits from corruption,” said Adhikari. 

    BJP’s newly-elected MP from Alipurduar, Manoj Tigga, told Swarajya that Mamata Banerjee’s image as an honest politician has been tarnished forever.

    “Her sheen has worn off and she is widely perceived as a tainted person due to her close association with corrupt people. She has openly defended the corrupt and that has cost her popular support,” said Tigga, who was the chief whip of the BJP legislature party in Bengal. 

    This is why, say BJP leaders, the Trinamool’s proposed outreach to urban folks is unlikely to work.

    “What will they tell people? That the Trinamool isn’t corrupt? That ‘bhaipo’ (nephew, meaning Abhishek Banerjee) is clean? That the state is well run? Nobody will believe them,” said Adhikari. 

    Trinamool Congress leaders admitted in private that the outreach to the urban middle class will be tough. The taint of corruption and misgovernance is a dark blemish that will not dilute easily. 

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