12 takeaways from the Bengal panchayat polls: Why are all groups upbeat for 2024?
Trinamool with a vote share of 51 per cent, BJP with 22 per cent and the Left Front–INC–ISF alliance with 21 per cent have claimed the honours in last week’s three-tier panchayat elections
All political groups in West Bengal seem ‘elated’ at their performance in the recently concluded panchayat elections!
While the results are still subject to an unpredictable Calcutta High Court direction expected next week, all the principal parties seem happy with their performance and hopeful of doing well in the Lok Sabha election in 2024.
The catch is, all of them cannot possibly be correct!
Widespread violence since 10 June—which took a toll of 45 lives and continued till the counting on 11 July and later—also makes it difficult to accurately assess the results.
Several candidates appear to have won by small margins of 4 to 40 votes, which is not unusual in panchayat elections. But video evidence of violence being produced before the high court and evidence of ballot papers found outside the polling and counting booths have cast a cloud on the polling process itself, and may influence the high court’s decision.
What is more, evidence from the panchayat elections in 2018 is confusing: the AITC (All India Trinamool Congress) won 34 per cent of the seats unopposed then, effectively sweeping the election; but that had little bearing on the Lok Sabha election in 2019, the very next year, where they got a drubbing at the hands of the BJP. There is therefore no reason to believe that this year’s panchayat poll can be used as a benchmark for next year’s Lok Sabha poll—even if every party is determined to claim its relevance.
To understand the results in these recently concluded panchayat elections, the following statistics are important:
1. Trinamool has polled 51.14 per cent of the votes.
2. It has won 880 seats out of the 928 seats in zila parishads.
3. Trinamool has also won a majority in 313 of the 341 panchayat samitis.
4. Trinamool has also won a majority in 2,641 of the 3,317 gram panchayats.
5. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has come a distant second, has won 31 of the 928 seats in zila parishads, won a majority in seven of the 341 panchayat samitis and 230 of the 3,317 gram panchayats.
6. INC has won 13 seats in ZPs and has a majority in 11 gram panchayats and no majority in any of the panchayat samitis.
7. The Left Front has won just two seats in zila parishad, and has a majority in 2 panchayat samitis and 19 gram panchayats.
8. The BJP’s vote share has declined to 22.88 per cent since the 2021 assembly election. But as a single party, the BJP has emerged as the main contender to the Trinamool therefore. The BJP has also won many more seats in the three-tier panchayats than the Left–INC–ISF alliance.
9. The Left Front vote share in the panchayat elections is 14 per cent and that of the INC 6.42 per cent. The combined votes polled by the INC, Left Front and the ISF (Indian Secular Front), which had a loose alliance, is 21 per cent—only marginally less than the BJP, then. The three political parties had separately polled just 10 per cent of the votes in the 2021 assembly election.
10. The BJP, which expected to do well in North Bengal, came in for a shock defeat in Alipurduar, Jalpaiguri and Coochbehar.
11. On the Darjeeling hills, the Trinamool supported the Gorkha Democratic Front led by Anit Thapa, which won 349 of the 598 seats (as opposed to the BJP’s alliance with the GNLF, the Gorkha National Liberation Front).
12. The BJP also suffered setbacks in the Dooars, from where BJP Union ministers Nisith Pramanik and John Barla hail. This belt is a Rajbangshi stronghold, and Rajbangshis have been demanding a separate state and a division of Bengal for a while now. While the BJP has not officially or publicly supported the demand, it has fielded Rajbangshi leader Anant Maharaj for the Rajya Sabha from West Bengal. This controversial decision is likely to set the political narrative for the state in the near future.