Kolkata: The West Bengal election campaign began with the opposition calling for a change of regime while the Left Front urged the voters to help it retain power for an eighth time. But as canvassing progressed, issues of black money and Purulia arms drop took centrestage while agriculture got more emphasis than industrialisation in a largely agrarian economy.
The Left Front, facing its stiffest challenge since taking power in 1977, put its former zeal for industrialization on the backburner. The Left placed more emphasis on agriculture as it desperately tried to regain its erstwhile rural base, which has to a large extent tilted to the Trinamool Congress.
Agriculture was also high on the Trinamool agenda. The party has reaped rich electoral dividends in recent years by leading protests against land takeover for industry, injecting the slogan that the time for 'change' had come in West Bengal.
In the process it consolidated the anti-incumbency vote against 34 years of envious uninterrupted Left rule.
The Left Front spoke about its previous achievements in agriculture and agro-industries. It also reeled off statistics about investment figures as it tried to hold to the educated, urban voters.
However, the battle between 'parivartan' (change) and 'pratyavartan' (comeback) soon moved into other areas.
Senior minister and Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Gautam Deb accused the Trinamool of using black money in its election campaign and questioned the source of its 'enormous' funds. The speeches of leaders of both camps turned into allegations and counter-allegations.
Then former CPI-M MP Anil Basu made 'obscene remarks' against Trinamool star Mamata Banerjee. These drew widespread condemnation, and Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee publicly censured Basu.
The Purulia arms drops case of 1985 suddenly resurfaced from nowhere to provide the Left much-needed ammunition that there has always been an international conspiracy against the Communists.
This was after prime accused Kim Davy claimed that arms and ammunition were airdropped in Purulia district of West Bengal to 'destabilise' the Left Front government and that New Delhi had a hand in the operation.
'They (CPI-M) know they will lose. So they are trying to bring up new issues,' said Sultan Ahmed, Trinamool leader and union minister of state for tourism.
'The central issue is whether there will be a Left Front for the eighth time or will there be a political change,' Congress spokesman Om Prakash Mishra said.
Balloting for the 294-member assembly started April 18 and ended Tuesday. The vote count takes place Friday.
(Pradipta Tapadar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)