Kolkata, July 30: West Bengal's ruling Trinamool Congress marched 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 90 percent of the bodies overall.
The opposition 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, has failed to win majority of the gram panchayats even in one district.
The LF was initially leading in most of the gram panchayats in Jalpaiguri, but only finished as the single largest combination.
Nadia district was seeing a close fight between the Trinamool and the LF, with the former in the lead.
The Congress bagged more than half of the gram panchayats in its citadel Murshidabad, and was involved in a tough three-way race with the Trinamool and the Left Front in another stronghold Malda.
But it slipped badly in its other base North Dinajpur, where the LF got half of the gram panchayats, with the Trinamool wresting a chunk of the Congress votes.
With counting over in about 80 percent of the gram panchayats and some panchayat samities, the Mamata magic seems to be intact in bulk of the districts.
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.
In Murshidabad, where Trinamool hardly had a base five years back, it made inroads in some of the gram panchayats.
The Trinamool also seemed to be maintaining 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 paid it rich dividends.
The Trinamool rode on the success of the movements in Singur and Nandigram to gain in strength and ultimately unseated the LF 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, Cooceh 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 are up for grabs.
There are in all 755 zilla parishad (district councils) constituencies spread over 17 zilla parishads, 8,864 panchayat samity constituencies in 341 panchayat samities and 36,016 gram panchayat constituencies in 3,354 gram panchayats.
In the 2008 elections, the LF bagged 13 zilla parishads, followed by Congress and the Trinamool with two each.
The counting has just started for the zilla parishad seats.
Happy over the outcome, Banerjee dedicated the win to the village 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, the LF accused the Trinamool of conspiring with the police and some State Election Commission officials in carrying out rampant irregularities in the vote count.
"There has been rampant irregularities in counting. Trinamool counting agents, police personnel and some SEC personnel entrusted with counting have all conspired and are directly involved in the fraudulent counting of votes," LF chairman Biman Bose told media persons here.
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.