KOLKATA: The All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) will fight the panchayat polls in West Bengal amidst a barrage of corruption allegations, in what is being seen as a pre-match test for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
The TMC leadership believes that the dynamics of Lok Sabha and village council elections may differ, but winning the rural heartland of Bengal is “crucial” for securing maximum parliamentary seats and exerting influence in national politics next year.
The state’s three-tier panchayat elections are scheduled to take place on July 8, encompassing a significant electorate of approximately 5.67 crores, who will exercise their franchise to choose representatives for nearly 74,000 seats in Zilla Parishads, Panchayat Samitis and Gram Panchayats.
”Given the enormity of the panchayat elections, it is not just going to be a test of the mass support in the backdrop of canards against us but also a bellwether for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls in Bengal,” senior TMC leader and MP Sougata Roy told PTI.
With most of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state having rural and semi-rural areas administered by panchayats, gaining the upper hand over their rivals in the parliamentary elections next year hinges upon the success of political parties in capturing and exerting influence in these rural areas.
”Our party is going through a crucial phase. Since the rural polls are fought on party symbols, the respective parties’ influence and weakness can be gauged,” he said.
According to TMC sources, the biggest challenge before the party is ensuring peaceful elections and no rerun of the violence-marred 2018 panchayat polls.
In the rural polls held five years ago, the TMC won 90 per cent of the panchayat seats and all 22 Zilla Parishads. However, these elections were marred by widespread violence and malpractices, with the opposition alleging that they were prevented from filing nominations in several seats across the state.
”The state election commission has to ensure free and fair polls. The party leadership has already communicated to the grassroots workers that it has to be ensured that elections are free and fair. Our leader Abhishek Banerjee has been repeatedly saying this,” Roy said.
Echoing him, TMC’s Lok Sabha party leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay told PTI that local leaders must implement the instructions of the top brass of the party at the ground level.
”The rural elections and their results impact the Lok Sabha polls. Even though we are confident of winning the panchayat polls based on the development work done by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, but it has to be ensured that people’s mandate and opinion is reflected through the results,” he said.
Another TMC leader, who did not wish to be named, said the rural polls would also test the success of TMC’s mass outreach campaign – Trinamool eh Nabojowar (New wave in Trinamool) led by party’s national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee.
The campaign was aimed at weeding out rotten elements and seeking feedback from the people on their preferable candidates, whom the party will nominate.
According to TMC leaders, the elections will be held at a time when several of its senior leaders are behind bars in various graft cases being probed by the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate, and other top leaders are busy shuttling courtrooms and offices of central agencies for questioning.
TMC Rajya Sabha deputy leader Sukhendu Sekhar Roy told PTI that the allegations of corruption “would not be able to dent” the party’s public support.
“When TMC leaders have been arrested by central agencies out of vendetta by the BJP, but that did not deter the party from winning maximum seats from Bengal in 2014,” he said. BJP national vice-president Dilip Ghosh said that TMC’s ”grab all mindset by any means” has led to local body elections in Bengal turning into a “farce”.
”The SEC has given just seven days to file nominations, which was done to help the TMC,” he alleged. Congress state president Adhir Chowdhury blamed the TMC leadership for trying to send out a message that it is “invincible” in Bengal, and that is why ”it wants to either create a situation where opposition parties are unable to file nominations or are not just allowed by the use of force”.
Political analyst Maidul Islam said the rural polls are of immense importance to the TMC in the context of national elections next year as 80 -85 per cent of the Lok Sabha seats have rural electorate.
”For the TMC, the road to Delhi in 2024 goes through rural Bengal and having control over maximum panchayats is key to it as 85 per cent of parliament seats have a base of rural votes,” he said.
Another political scientist Biswanath Chakraborty said the panchayat polls have thrown up multi-cornered challenges before the TMC, including its attempt for an image makeover.
Source: Press Trust of India