Kolkata: The Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress got a shot in the arm Thursday as it won all the three West Bengal assembly constituencies — Kaliaganj, Karimpur and Kharagpur Sadar — where bypolls were held earlier this week.
Two of these — Kaliaganj and Kharagpur — were seen as seats where the TMC was struggling to establish voter connect. However, the party succeeded in wresting them from the BJP and the Congress, respectively, with experts describing it as a possible sign of political strategist Prashant Kishor’s involvement in the TMC’s campaign.
While Mamata cheered the victory as a defeat of the “BJP’s arrogance and divisive campaign” for the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship Amendment Bill, the BJP said the public was misled on the issue by the chief minister.
Political experts, however, urged caution. They cited Uttar Pradesh as an example, and said not much should be read into the TMC’s bypoll sweep.
Bypolls in Uttar Pradesh last year saw the BJP lost three Lok Sabha seats, but the party went on to pull off a near-sweep in the state in the 2019 general elections.
Marker for BJP’s NRC push?
The BJP has been making giant inroads in West Bengal over the past few years, winning 18 of the state’s 42 seats in this year’s Lok Sabha elections and losing two with a slim margin of 2,000 votes. The party had won just two in 2014.
In this light, the results are crucial for both the Trinamool Congress and the BJP.
For one, say experts, it is an indication for the BJP that it still lacks a mass leader to rival Mamata, who is serving her second consecutive term as chief minister.
According to Professor Biswanath Chakraborty, a noted political analyst, it is about time the BJP decided a face for its Bengal campaign — “a face… that can fight Mamata Banerjee’s image as a mass leader”.
“The party is also riddled with factional feuds. These factors have gone against the BJP, while Prashant Kishor’s strategies have really worked for the Trinamool Congress,” he said. “He managed to get the party a little organised and it is reflected through the campaigns and now the results.”
Another upshot is that the BJP’s aggressive push for the NRC and the Citizenship Amendment Bill appears to have failed to bring the party any electoral dividends in the two border constituencies where they were expected to work — Karimpur in Nadia and Kaliaganj in North Dinajpur.
Mamata’s efforts to counter the NRC as a divisive tactic seem to have worked. During her campaign rallies, her election pitch centred on portraying the BJP as an anti-Bengali party.
Citing reports that the majority of exclusions from the Assam NRC were Hindus, she said the BJP has been systematically driving out Bengali Hindus from Assam and will do the same in Bengal.
“Politics of too much arrogance and unnecessary pride will not work,” Mamata said as trends started coming in Thursday. “A party cannot win always by intimidating the opposition through central agencies. The divisive politics will end soon… A common citizen does not want to stand in a queue to prove his or her nationality. The NRC will drown them.”
“This is a victory in favour of secularism and unity and is a mandate against NRC,” PTI quoted her as saying.
Analyst Chakraborty backed Mamata’s assessment with regard to NRC.
“The results show that people rejected the BJP’s NRC pitch. The Muslim votes of the CPI(M) and the Congress that might have gone to the BJP during the general elections, have now consolidated against the BJP,” he added.
“In fact, the Hindu refugee votes have also gone to the Trinamool Congress it seems… The BJP failed to convince them about the Citizenship Amendment Bill. People are confused,” he said.
The BJP said Mamata had “misled and misguided” the people on NRC. State BJP chief Dilip Ghosh, however, acknowledged that his party failed in “getting a proper election pitch”.
Senior Trinamool Congress leaders described Kharagpur Sadar and Kaliaganj as “trophies”, while Karimpur, retained by the party with a margin of around 20,000 votes, was called an “expected win”.
Tapan Deb of the Trinamool Congress has won the seat with 44.65 of the vote share, a slim lead over the 43.54 per cent gained by the BJP’s Kamal Chandra Sarkar. The Congress-CPI(M) combine got all of 8.64 per cent of the votes.
Almost 40 per cent of Kaliaganj’s population is believed to comprise Hindu refugees, with only 27 per cent Muslims. In the 2019 election, the BJP led this assembly segment by 57,000 votes. The North Bengal seat has been known to be a Congress stronghold with little Trinamool presence. More importantly, the Trinamool Congress faced a complete rout in North Bengal this year as it lost all seven Lok Sabha seats in the region.
The loss of Kharagpur Sadar is, however, the bigger embarrassment for the BJP as it was held by Dilip Ghosh before he vacated it for the Lok Sabha polls. He is now the MP for Kharagpur.
The seat is said to be dominated by non-Bengalis, who comprise 60 per cent of the population. Muslims account for another 15 per cent.
Party candidate Prem Shanka Jha lost the seat by almost 21,000, winning just 34 per cent of the voteshare. Pradip Sarkar of the Trinamool Congress won the seat with 48 per cent of the votes. The Congress-CPI(M) won around 14 per cent of the votes.
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