Kolkata: The Trinamool Congress (TMC) may have won the latest bypoll round, in its battle with the BJP in West Bengal, but numbers from the three by-elections reveal that the BJP has little to be worried about, as far as its vote-share is concerned.
The figures also show that the floating votes of the Congress and the CPM that were key to the BJP’s defeat in two of the seats — Kharagpur (East Midnapore) and Kaliaganj (North Dinajpur). The third seat, Karimpur (Nadia), is a Trinamool stronghold.
An analysis of the results in two of the constituencies that swung away from 2016 and a very grass-root level breakup of polling patterns show that the Hindu votes of BJP did not split and hence the alleged fear over implementation of NRC was not a factor in its loss, rather an otherwise dedicated Congress and Left Front vote swung towards the Trinamool.
For instance, in the 2016 assembly elections, the BJP secured 27,252 votes in the Kaliaganj constituency, a one-time Congress bastion. Trinamool got 66,256 votes while the Congress-CPM alliance won the seat with 1,12,868 votes. In the bypolls held last week, the TMC won the seat with 97,428 votes, while the BJP managed 95,014 votes, and the alliance polled just 18,857 votes.
The BJP gained electorally as its number of votes increased by almost 68,000, while the Trinamool also increased its tally by almost 31,000 votes. All this came at the cost of the Congress and Left votes that plummeted by some 90,000 votes.
It’s a near-similar tale at Kharagpur, which has a high Telugu population.
The BJP lost Kharagpur — the seat its Bengal chief Dilip Ghosh vacated to contest the Lok Sabha elections that he won — but the party was not the worst performer here. In the 2016 assembly elections, the BJP had managed around 61,000 votes, but secured 52,000 this time — a drop of 10,000 votes. The Trinamool, which managed 34,000 votes in 2016, won the seat in the bypoll by doubling its tally, polling 73,000 votes.
Yet again, it was the Congress-CPM combine that lost out, seeing its number nosedive from 55,000 in the 2016 assembly elections to 15,000 in the bypolls.
The numbers also show that voters are able to treat state and national elections differently.
The BJP’s vote-share in Kaliaganj reduced from 52 per cent in the 2019 general elections to 44 per cent in the bypoll. The TMC vote-share rose from 27 per cent in the Lok Sabha elections to 45 per cent.
The Congress-CPM combine was the worst hit here too. Their vote-share reduced from 16 per cent in the general elections to 9 per cent in the Kaliaganj bypoll. The two parties had not allied for the Lok Sabha elections and the vote-share is a total of the votes they managed individually.
In Kharagpur too, the TMC’s vote-share rose from 29.58 per cent in the Parliamentary elections to 47.8 per cent in the bypolls. The BJP vote-share reduced from 57.23 per cent in the Lok Sabha polls to 33.9 per cent in the bypolls.
The Congress-CPM combine did, however, manage to better its Lok Sabha performance. Their combined vote-share rose from 10.07 per cent to 14.9 per cent in the bypolls.
Secular vote-bank getting polarised
The trend also points to the fact that the CPM-Congress vote bank, that was a combination of both Hindu-Muslim votes, is now systematically getting polarised.
“This is the first time, the secular vote bank of Congress and Left parties are getting polarised this way. We can never enter into the communal type of campaigning,” said Amitabha Chakraborty, a senior West Bengal Congress leader.
“The social pattern of polling has changed. Our people are voting in favour of BJP for shelter or for Trinamool for the same. If the Prime Minister or the union home minister openly keeps saying that the citizenship of people would be determined based on their respective religion, how can one expect to exercise their democratic right in a sane manner. And there is nothing to be happy about for the Trinamool Congress.”
In Kaliaganj, for instance, there was an absolute consolidation of Muslim votes for the TMC. The figures show that the BJP trailed heavily in three of 12 gram panchayats in Kaliaganj that are Muslim dominated.
“The NRC word made the most difference in this bordering seat. it created panic and the people rejected it. It also led to an absolute consolidation of Muslim votes in favour of Trinamool Congress decimating the Congress and CPM alliance,” said Professor Biswanath Chakraborty, a renowned analyst.
The BJP argues that its Hindu votes remained intact. “BJP’s vote-share increased by almost 12 per cent in Kaliaganj,” party national general secretary and West Bengal in-charge Kailash Vijayvargiya told ThePrint. He also blamed the loss at Kharagpur on “factional issues” that affected the candidate selection process.
“We have lost here as there were some local issues we failed to address. The people did not like our candidate there and we lost the seat by around 20,000 votes. We are hopeful of a speedy reversal here,” Vijavargiya added.
Trinamool not resting on laurels
A senior poll analyst who works with Trinamool Congress core team told ThePrint that the party had been surprised by the wins at Khargpur and Kaliaganj.
“Karimpur has always been with us. Didi knew that we would win Karimpur,” the analyst told ThePrint. “But Kaliaganj and Kharagpur surprised us. Kharagpur is a story of ground reversal for us. Kaliaganj is still with the BJP to a great extent as we won here by a very thin margin of 2,400 votes. BJP is still a force to reckon with in North Bengal.”
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, however, does not want to take any chances. She will travel to all three constituencies to “thank” the people on 9 December.
Minister Suvendu Adhikari, who is in-charge of North Dinajpur district, said there was no question of being overconfident. “We have to reach out to all those who did not vote for us. We have to convince them about our development agenda. We have to work ever harder now before the assembly elections,” he said at a workers’ meeting in Kolkata.
‘Nothing is working in our favour’
A senior leader of the Congress sounded disappointed. “We are facing a systematic rout,” he said. “We have a committed vote bank that has become unpredictable now. This is also the make or break factor in the state. We are not able to arrest the erosion at the ground. We experimented everything in the last three elections. We allied with CPM, we fought alone once and then again allied with the CPM. But nothing seems to be working in our favour.”
The BJP, however, is not very hopeful about the upcoming civic elections, alleging rigging and intimidation were behind the defeat in the bypolls. Party leaders said it would be repeated in the civic elections too.
“We lost the seats as the Trinamool goons and the state police intimidated voters by jamming booths and rigging the polls,” Vijayvargiya said. “Our candidates were also brutally attacked. This will be repeated in the civic polls too. In fact, there will be more violence as the polls would be conducted by the state election commission. There will be no paramilitary forces. We are preparing for 2021 assembly elections.”
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