By-Poll Test for Future of Bengal Politics

By-poll election to three Assembly seats in West Bengal is a litmus test for the BJP and TMC to know the political wind before the forthcoming Municipal elections in 2020 and the 2021 Assembly election.

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BJP election rally

The BJP and TMC will face off once again in the upcoming by-elections for the three seats in West Bengal, scheduled to be held on the 25th of November. The opposition will also consist of a Congress-Left Front alliance battling for the Assembly seats of Kharagpur Sadar in West Midnapore district, Karimpur in Nadia district and Kaliaganj in Uttar Dinajpur district of the state. By-polls to the Kharagpur and Karimpur Assembly seats were necessitated after sitting BJP MLA Dilip Ghosh and TMC’s Mahua Moitra were elected to the 17th Lok Sabha from Midnapore and Krishnanagar, respectively, in April–May 2019 General Elections. The Kaliaganj seat fell vacant following the death of sitting Congress MLA Pramatha Nath Ray on 31 May 2019.

Since the surprising outcome of the Lok Sabha polls in the state where the BJP managed to land an impressive 18 seats, just four seats below the ruling party TMC’s 22, the by-elections will be an additional litmus test signalling which way the Bengal political scenario is heading.

TMC Karimpur rally

Ahead of the 2020 Municipal election and the 2021 State Assembly election, the by-polls will have substantial political significance in West Bengal as it will be held keeping in mind the performance of BJP in the recent Maharashtra and Haryana Assembly polls and in the backdrop of the proposed implementation of NRC and the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in Parliament. The Lok Sabha results saw BJP increase its tally by vast margins in West Bengal from two seats in 2014 to 18 seats in 2019 by bagging 40.5 per cent votes. Meanwhile, TMC will attempt to regain its lost political ground, as seen by the significant fall in the number of seats from 34 in 2014 to 22 in 2019.

Although a section of state BJP leaders feel that the party’s failure to get the majority in Maharashtra and Haryana Assembly polls have not gone down well with its ranks in West Bengal, national secretary and former BJP state president Rahul Sinha feels positive. ‘We are pretty confident about winning all the three seats in this by-election. The Kharagpur seat was already under BJP. Since 2014, we have improved in terms of solidarity and have seen a significant influx of members from other parties.

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The result of the Lok Sabha election is also ample proof of the fall of people’s confidence in Mamata Banerjee and her party.

Therefore, we strongly believe that our chances of winning are extremely high’, Sinha told Delhi Post. Referring to predictions of the 2021 Assembly elections based on the results of the by-polls, the leader further said that ‘the Assembly polls are still a long way off, but the result of the by-polls will definitely help boost our confidence. In any case, we are quite certain that BJP will come out with a strong majority in 2021’.

Left-Congress pact in by-polls

The by-poll is also crucial in determining whether the tie-up between the CPI (M) and state Congress, which has materialized after three years, will regain relevance in West Bengal or be rendered redundant. While the Congress had managed to bag just two seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha, CPI (M) drew a blank. Sujan Chakraborty, senior leader and Central Committee member of CPI (M) told Delhi Post that ‘people’s resentment towards TMC is pretty clear by the party’s performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. At the same time, the people of Bengal have also realized that BJP does not understand and value the sentiments and culture of Bengal. They are instrumental for the division of Bengal and have made the state weak. Under such circumstances, we have to stand as a suitable alternative and receive the approval of the masses’.

Senior Congress leader and Rajya Sabha Member Pradip Bhattacharya said to Delhi Post, ‘The left parties and Congress combined are fighting this by-election with a new model. Hopefully, the results will be positive, and it will, to some extent, help us understand the political atmosphere ahead of the Assembly elections’. With both the parties fighting for their political existence in Bengal, the Congress and the CPI (M)-led Left Front have settled upon a seat adjustment agreement for the by-polls; whereby, the Left Front will contest the election from Karimpur, while Congress will fight for the seats of Kharagpur Sadar and Kaliaganj.

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Ruling party Trinamool Congress is hoping to make up for the loss in Lok Sabha seats through its mass outreach campaign ‘Didike Bolo’ (Tell Didi), which has been running since the past three months.

Party leaders are hopeful that it has revived much of its lost ground and the by-polls will reflect it.According to party sources, along with local and rural issues like distress caused by the economic policies of the Central government, the TMC in its campaign for the by-polls will also highlight the threat BJP is imposing through NRC in the state, which will turn legal citizens into refugees. ‘The people of West Bengal in the last few months have realized that the BJP is a communal and divisive force. In the by-polls, we will win all the seats as the people of the state have faith in Mamata Banerjee’, TMC Secretary General Partha Chatterjee said in a press meet.

It is pretty evident that the BJP is looking to implement NRC in West Bengal if they come to power in the state, and the by-polls rolling in their favour will be a step towards that consolidation. The panic that followed the NRC exercise in Assam has put BJP on the backfoot to a certain extent. The party has to tread carefully if it wishes to garner votes from the constituencies of Kliaganj and Karimpur as they lie next to the Bangladesh border and have relatively high Muslim population.