Basking in the afterglow of its success in the recent Lok Sabha election in West Bengal when it won two seats, the BJP is aiming high, hoping to open its account in the state Assembly by wresting Basirhat (South) from the ruling Trinamool Congress when the seat, alongwith Chowringhee, goes to bypolls Saturday.
The Assembly segment was one of the few where the party secured a lead of nearly 30,000 votes during the Lok Sabha polls. How crucial the seat is, and how big the prestige attached to it is, can be gauged from the fact that Trinamool supremo and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee deployed 12 cabinet ministers, eight MPs, including actor-turned politicians Deepak Adhikary aka Dev, Moon Moon Sen and Satabdi Roy, apart from several other senior leaders of the party for campaigning.
CPI-M held the seat, which has a highly polarised electorate, for seven consecutive terms beginning 1977.
During this year’s Lok Sabha election, BJP secured 76,577 votes (38 per cent vote share) in this segment compared to TMC’s 46,354 (23 per cent). Significantly, Left Front candidate Nurul Huda had got 42,336 votes and Congress’s Rahim Quazi 24,626 votes.
The figures reflect that split loyalty of the 2,36,000 electorate of which 40 per cent are Muslims and 54 per cent Hindus. During the Lok Sabha polls, all the parties, excluding BJP, had fielded Muslim candidates while in the Assembly bypoll, all parties have put up Hindu candidates.
A senior TMC leader who is also a cabinet minister, requesting anonymity, said: “Fielding a minority candidate in the Lok Sabha polls was a compulsion as religious leaders from the community had nominated Idrish Ali, who is now our MP from Basirhat. But that formula won’t work in the Assembly bypolls. An analysis of LS rtesult shows that minority votes got split between TMC, CPI and the Congress but the Hindu votes went to BJP”.
This largely explains why all parties have switched to Hindu candidates the bypolls. BJP candidate Shamik Bhattacharya, however, feel that the minorities have responded well to the party’s campaign. “Everyday, minority voters are coming to our fold. They have realized that Narendra Modi government has not done anything wrong. There is no religious polarisation in Basirhat. The polarization is only between the TMC on one side and all other parties on the other side”.
In this Assembly seat, 76 booths in seven village panchayats are located close to the India-Bangladesh border. There were 39 madrasas that the TMC leaders visited to explain the steps the state government has taken for the minorities. On the contrary, Bhattacharya in his campaign rallies appealed the “minority brothers not to send their children to madrasas” and instead send them to the government schools.
Jyotipriya Mallick, cabinet minister and TMC in-charge of the assembly bypolls, said: “Even though, we had a deficit in this assembly segment, we are sure of a win with a high margin. We have fielded a local youth and footballer Dipendu Biswas who runs at least 30 football training camps in the area and people know him very well”.
Apart from sending Partha Chatterjee, Maloy Ghyatak, Chandrima Bhattcharya, Jyotipriya Mallick, Subrata Mukherjee, Rajib Banerjee, and Giyasuddin Mollah, all cabinet ministers to campaign in the seat, Mamata gave her trusted lieutenant and party general secretary Mukul Roy the charge of the bypoll.
Party’s state president Subrata Bakshi has been entrusted with the responsibility of supervising the preparations. To get the support of the minority community, the party had appointed 57 Imams and clerics to campaign.