Trinamool sweeps Bengal panchayat polls, mauls LF

Kolkata, July 30: West Bengal's ruling Trinamool Congress romped towards a massive victory in the rural polls, regarded as a curtain raiser to the next general elections and the biggest test of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's popularity since she came to power in 2011.

The Trinamool has won or is on the verge of winning majority of the gram panchayats and the panchayat samilties (the lowest and the middle levels, respectively, of the three-tier rural council system) in 12 of the 17 districts of the state.

 In the panchayat samities, the Trinamool's success story was more spectacular, as it was winning over 70 percent of the bodies overall, in contrast to about 60 percent in the gram panchayats.

As per latest results, the Trinamool had claimed 163 of the 225 samities, with the opposition Left Front bagging 51. The Congress got only 19. Some of the samities returned hung verdicts.

With counting almost over in the gram panchayats and majority of panchayat samities, the Mamata magic seems to be intact in bulk of the districts, notwithstanding the Sarada chit fund case, and other controversies which has dogged her government.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)-led Left Front, which had established its dominance in 13 districts in the previous elections held in 2008, suffered huge losses, particularly in south Bengal.

But it managed to do better in some of the northern districts, mainly benefiting from a triangular contest with the Trinamool cutting into the traditional bases of the Congress.

The LF finished as the single largest combination in the gram panchayats of Jalpaiguri district, and led in the samities. It also came up with a good show in Murshidabad, Malda and North Dinajpur districts, for long strongholds of the Congress.

Nadia district was seeing a close fight between the Trinamool and the LF, with the former in the lead in the gram panchayats, and the latter moving ahead in the samities. The Congress, which emerged third, seemed to have spoiled the Trinamool's party in the district.

The Congress bagged more than half of the gram panchayats in its citadel Murshidabad, but finished second in the panchayat samities.

However, in a tough three-way race with the Trinamool and the Left Front, the party slipped in its other strongholds Malda and North Dinajpur where it was running the zilla parishads for the last five years.

 The Trinamool was far ahead of its rivals in its belt of south Bengal, where it was picking up an overwhelming number of gram panchyats in nine of the ten districts, except Nadia.

The Trinamool also maintained its stranglehold over Singur of Hooghly district and East Midnapore's Nandigram, two rural areas where sustained and often violent farmers' protests led by the party against the then LF government's bid to acquire agricultural land for industries had scripted its resurgence in the state culminating in the assembly polls victory in 2011.

The LF, which was hoping for revival of its fortunes in some of the districts, suffered rude jolts in the former red forts of Burdwan, Bankura, Birbhum, North 24 Parganas, West Midnapore, Cooch Behar and Hooghly.

The massive democratic exercise with 1.69 lakh candidates in the fray - around 90,000 of them women - has 58,865 seats up for grabs.

The counting has just started for the zilla parishad seats.In 2008, the LF conquered 13 zilla parishads, followed by Congress and the Trinamool with two each.

Happy over the outcome, Banerjee dedicated the win to the people.

"People in the state have got back democracy through the panchayat polls.I dedicate this victory to the rural population of the state. It is the victory of Maa Maati Manush (Mother, Land and People)."

 On the other hand, LF chairman Biman Bose accused the Trinamool of conspiring with the police and some State Election Commission officials in carrying out rampant irregularities in the vote count.

Incidentally, the Trinamool won over 6,000 seats uncontested.

At least 24 people were killed during the five phased polls which began July 11, but no untoward incident, according to police, has taken place yet during counting.

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