After the no-holds-barred Assembly elections of this year and the prestigious Bhabanipur bypoll that had Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee as candidate, West Bengal is headed for another high-stakes battle: for control of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation.
The Trinamool Congress is looking to retain its winning streak in the state in the December 19 election, particularly as the BJP is still reeling from the scale of its Assembly poll defeat, and the defections from its ranks to the TMC since.
However, unlike the 2019 Lok Sabha or this year’s Assembly polls, the KMC elections will not be just a two-way contest. In fact, the CPM and Congress, which fought together in the Assembly polls and didn’t win a single seat, may enjoy an edge over the BJP here because of the traditional support for the two parties at the grass-roots level, especially in cities and towns. Despite the major strides it has made in the state where it had no presence till not so long ago, the BJP does not have a strong local face or organisational strength.
The TMC first won the KMC elections in 2010, even before it had come to power in the state in 2011, dislodging the Left Front. It won 95 of the 141 wards.
In 2015, the TMC retained the civic body, winning 124 of the 144 wards (the KMC strength was increased by then). The CPM won 13 and Congress 2. The BJP, a new entrant at the time after the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, surprised everyone by winning 5 wards.
The next election to the KMC was due in 2020, but was postponed in view of Covid.
For Sunday’s election, the TMC has dropped 39 sitting councillors but retained its heavyweight leaders, including former mayor Firhad Hakim, former deputy mayor Atin Ghosh, MLAs Debashis Kumar, Debabrata Mazumdar, Ratna Chatterjee and Paresh Pal, and MP Mala Roy. Mamata Banerjee’s sister-in-law Kajari Banerjee is a TMC candidate from Ward No. 73 in Bhawanipore, thus becoming the third member of the party to get a party ticket for polls.
Relatives of several other TMC leaders too have got tickets, including Pooja Panja, the daughter of State Women and Child Development and Social Welfare Minister Shashi Panja; Sandipan Saha, the son of MLA Swarna Kamal Saha; Kakoli Sen, the wife of TMC MP Shantanu Sen; Amit Singh and Krishna Singh, the son and daughter of Councillor Tarak Singh; and Sourav Bhattacharya, the son of Minister Chandrima Bhattacharyya.
The BJP has fielded several old-timers, but also gone with 48 nominees below the age of 40. The Left Front and Congress have retained their leaders who won last time.
Outgoing Mayor and TMC leader Firhad Hakim said that if given charge of the KMC again, their priority would be Kolkata’s water-logging and drinking water problems. “Our opposition is us. We have to win people’s confidence and complete all the works that are due,” he said.
TMC sitting MLA and Ward No. 11 candidate Atin Ghosh said people have already rejected the BJP’s politics, while the Left and Congress are barely making an attempt to revive their parties. “The TMC will easily win 132-134 wards,” Ghosh said.
The Opposition has expressed apprehension of violence during the polls, like alleged during the Assembly elections. The BJP appealed to the Calcutta High Court for Central forces, and while a single-judge Bench has dismissed its plea, its appeal is now being heard by a Division Bench.
CPM Kolkata district secretary Kallol Majumder said, “In every ward, the TMC’s hooligans and their teams are active. Our goal is to give a transparent municipal administration to the people of Kolkata.”
A long history
Founded in 1876, the KMC administers an area of 206.08 sq km, divided into 144 administrative wards. Each ward elects a councillor. The civic body discharges its functions through a Mayor-in-Council, consisting of a mayor, a deputy mayor and 10 other elected members. Kolkata district encompasses 16 Assembly seats and two parliamentary constituencies. C R Das was the first elected mayor and Subhas Chandra Bose his chief executive officer.