West Bengal (India) 2011

A general election for the 294-seat Legislative Assembly of West Bengal in India was held in six phases between April 18 and May 10 with the votes counted on May 13. West Bengal had the longest serving democratically elected communist government in the world, with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) – the CPI(M) for short – ruling the state since 1977. West Bengal, which includes Calcutta, has long been a stronghold of Indian communism, something which might have something to do with the state’s alleged alienation from New Delhi. The Chief Minister of West Bengal since 2000 has been Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, famous for liberalizing West Bengal’s economy somewhat although West Bengal remains one of India’s poorest states.

Politics in West Bengal are pretty much a two-way game between the CPI(M)-led Left Front and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) – the ruling multi-party coalition in New Delhi. The UPA is dominated by the All-India Trinamool Congress (AITC), a populist party led by Mamata Banerjee. The INC has a smaller base within the UPA, while the ruling Left Front also includes assorted communists and socialists. The BJP is inexistent in West Bengal.

Here are the results of the election:

AITC – UPA 184 seats (+154)
INC – UPA 42 seats (+21)
CPI(M) – LF 40 seats (-135)
AIFB – LF 11 seats (-12)
RSP – LF 7 seats (-13)
CPI – LF 2 seats (-7)
SP – ? 1 seat (+1)
Others 7 seats

As happens in most Indian state elections, when the ruling party is voted out of power it is usually done through a rout of epic proportions. Though the popular vote was only split 48-42 in the UPA’s favour, the wonders of FPTP turned that small-ish margin into a landslide defeat. The sitting Chief Minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, was defeated in his own seat.

The Communist lost can be attributed to a number of factors, the most prominent of which are corruption, bad governance, poverty and being in power for way too long. More recently, land battles in the state ended in the Communist government ordering the police to shoot down protesters, which was, of course, a very bad move for a communist party. The CPI(M)’s defeat has been on the cards since 2009 at least, when the Left suffered loses in the Lok Sabha elections and then in 2010 when the CPI(M) lost its Calcutta stronghold in local elections. But even though it was predicted, the CPI(M)’s defeat remains shocking by its proportion. West Bengal is the core, the pedestal of the Indian communist movement which makes this defeat all the more significant.

For those who believe that India’s future economic development resides in free-market economics, they won’t be too enamored with Mamata Banerjee or the AITC. Mamata is a populist, who made a big issue of the land battles which destroyed the CPI(M) and which managed to sweep out the government on a wave of revolutionary fervour. The AITC and Mamata played a major role in the 2006 protests opposing the implantation of a Tata factory in Singur and finally drove Tata (and jobs) out of the state. But given that the AITC is a member of the governing UPA alliance, it won’t be able to break out too much from the central government’s economic policies.

In other Assembly polls, the CPI(M) lost control of its other stronghold – Kerala – to a INC-led alliance albeit rather narrowly. In Tamil Nadu, the governing Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) lost in a landslide to its enemy, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and in doing so will continue the amusing game of musical chairs played between the DMK’s boss M. Karunanidhi and the AIADMK’s J. Jayalalithaa which has been going on almost unhindered since 1989.  In Assam, the governing INC won a huge majority at the BJP and Asom Gana Parishad’s expense.

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Posted on May 15, 2011, in India, Regional and local elections. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. The AIADMK’s victory is fascinating in that it seems to have shifted the Indian Government’s position on Sri Lanka. Jayalalithaa made a big play of how cozy the two governments were and how complicit the Indian army was in war crimes in 2009. The fact that Congress and their allies were reduced to 31 seats and Congress themselves to what I believe was a record low of 5 seems to have signaled to Dehli that they had pushed Tamil sympathies as far as they will go – that or they’ve lost their rag with Rajapaska over fishing rights. Either way this: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-13436844 is the most India has ever criticized Sri Lanka over its handling of the insurgency

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