Polls ahoy !

Elections in four states — West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Assam and the Union Territory of Puducherry — to be held between April 4 and May 10 are not only likely to end the 35-year-old Left rule in Bengal but will also lead to ‘structural change’ in government as promised by the prime minister. It remains to be seen if the PM’s statement leads to a major reshuffle or a complete overhaul of the government with some big guns moving to the party organization. The Congress expects that at least three states — Kerala, West Bengal and Assam — would be in its kitty to boost its sagging morale. In Tamil Nadu, where the Congress and the DMK are struggling to hammer out a seat-sharing agreement, the party seems to realize that the AIADMK’s alliance with actor Vijayakanth’s DMDK may have given the latter a slender edge. However, it is hopeful of winning in neighbouring Puducherry. New governments would be in place in all states after May 13, when the results are announced, but it is the outcome in West Bengal that is going to be the focus of attention. The Left faces the most formidable challenge ever from the Trinamool Congress-Congress combine. Since the 2009 parliamentary polls, Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool has swept all the elections — bypoll, panchayat and civic bodies — in the state. If results conform to popular estimates, coming elections will mark the first time since 1977 when the CPM will be simultaneously without power, even leverage, at the Centre and in West Bengal and Kerala. Senior CPM leaders privately admit that the Trinamool-Congress alliance is formidable. More important is the admission by Left leaders that people have made up their mind for change. Mamata’s exhortation to people that if the Left can get seven terms, she deserves one chance has caught people’s imagination. “No amount of pleas to people that its cadre has changed for good can take away what people have suffered for so long at the hands of the CPM’s local leaders. The change is inevitable,” said a senior Left leader from Bengal. He added that putting the fear of Mamata — as the Left has been doing lately — is proving to be counter-productive. “It’s a desperate call by the Left and no one is listening,” he said. Kerala will be another headache for the Left. The state votes the Congress-led United Democratic Front and the CPM-led Left Democratic Front in cyclical fashion. But, it would be an easy interpretation of the Left’s near-certain defeat. The CPM, the lead party in government, is in complete disarray. Chief minister V S Achuthanandan — now under fire for allegations of corruption against his son — is the party’s asset and a bigger liability.

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