Continuing its winning streak in West Bengal politics, the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) Saturday swept the bypolls, retaining Kolkata’s Ballygunge seat while wresting the Asansol parliamentary constituency from the BJP. The fresh election outcome again highlighted TMC supremo and Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s dominance in state politics, which has been continuing for over a decade now.
The BJP is the principal Opposition party in Bengal, but the bypoll results indicated a further erosion in its support base in the state. The saffron party not only lost its Asansol constituency to the TMC — which clinched it for the first time ever — but its candidate also came third in Ballygunge seat and lost her deposit.
The poll results also saw a sharp rise in the Left’s vote share in Ballygunge, where the CPM candidate became the runner-up. In Asansol, the CPM retained its vote share although its candidate came third. The Congress party was completely decimated, with its candidates losing their deposits in both these polls.
While the Trinamool’s candidate in Asansol, film actor-turned-politician Shatrughan Sinha, bagged the seat with a margin of over 3 lakh votes, the party’s nominee in Ballygunge, ex-Union minister Babul Supriyo, won the seat with about 20,000 votes, which was a sharp drop from the party’s previous victory margin of about 75,000 votes.
In September last year, Supriyo had quit the BJP and joined the TMC, two months after he was removed from the Narendra Modi ministry as part of its major rejig. Subsequently, he also resigned as the BJP MP from Asansol, which he had won in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Mamata picked Supriyo as the party candidate from Ballygunge, which had fallen vacant with the demise of party veteran Subrata Mukherjee in November last year.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had got 51.15% votes in Asansol while the TMC and the CPI(M) had got 35.19% and 7.07% votes respectively. In the 2021 Assembly polls, in its seven Assembly segments, the TMC had garnered 46.21% votes as against the BJP’s 41.89% and the CPI(M)’s 7.5% votes. In the current by-election to this seat, however, the TMC’s vote percentage shot up to 56.5% while the BJP’s dipped to 30%, with the CPI(M) managing to retain its vote base by getting 7.77% votes.
In Ballygunge, the TMC had secured 60.38% votes in the 2019 general election, with the BJP and the CPI(M) getting 26.59% and 5.28% votes respectively. In the 2021 state polls, the TMC garnered 70.6% votes while the BJP and the CPI(M) got 20.68% and 5.61% votes respectively. But, in the current bypoll, the TMC got about 50% votes in this seat as against the CPI(M)’s 31% and the BJP’s 12% votes. The CPM candidate in Ballygunge, Saira Shah Halim, who got 30,971 votes as against Supriyo’s 51,199 votes and BJP candidate Keya Ghosh’s 13,220 votes, also led in the constituency’s two wards, even though in the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) polls, held in December last year, the TMC had swept all its seven wards.
According to the TMC camp, there was a “negative campaign” against Supriyo in the bypoll as he switched to the party from the BJP and had a “perceived communal image”. In 2018, when he was the BJP MP, Supriyo was accused of allegedly inciting violence in Asansol during the Ram Navami celebrations, in which the son of a local Imam was killed. Following the declaration of Supriyo as the TMC candidate from Ballygunge, the West Bengal Imams Association protested against the decision. With Ballygunge accounting for more than 30 per cent Muslim voters, there were indications that he might not fully get their support despite joining the TMC.
“Minority community did not forget that wound inflicted by Asansol riots… From the bypoll result, it is clear that a significant section of the minority community has not accepted Babul as part of our party yet. So, they voted against us and CPI(M)’s vote share increased there,” said a senior TMC leader of South Kolkata.
The Bengal Imam Association also campaigned against Supriyo among Ballygunge’s minority voters. Its president Md. Yahya said, “We are glad that voters of Ballygunge accepted our request and gave a message to TMC. The TMC should take note of it and introspect.”
Senior TMC leader and minister Firhad Hakim however said: “The results have again proved that we never do politics based on 30% or 70% people. We always reach out to 100% of the voters and do work for all and that ensured our success.”
On her part, Saira Shah Halim claimed, “The CPI(M) has come back strongly with more than 30% vote share and it is proved that CPI(M) is the only opposition against TMC. This is clear that we are making a comeback (in state politics). It is a moral victory for me and my comrades, who fought so hard against ruthless state intimidation, communalism and other factors.”
Senior state BJP leader Dilip Ghosh blamed the party’s losses to the “TMC-created fear psychosis”. “In West Bengal, TMC created a fear psychosis among the voters. Even our voters also did not came out to vote,” he alleged.
However, a section of BJP leaders admitted that the party’s organisation has weakened in Asansol. A senior BJP leader said, “Our cadres did not come out on the day of polling to manage the polling process without which a party cannot win an election in West Bengal.”
The TMC’s fresh triumph has come in the backdrop of a series of violent incidents reported from various places in the state in recent months, which included the murder of student leader Anis Khan allegedly by a few police personnel, Bogtui village arson and killings, and several rape cases.
In the 2021 Assembly polls, Mamata had spearheaded her party to a spectacular victory for the third consecutive time. The party had since then swept all the polls including those in 112 civic bodies and six Assembly bypolls.
— With inputs from Santanu Chowdhury