Bypolls in West Bengal litmus test for BJP, TMC

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. (PTI Photo)

The upcoming Assembly by-elections in three constituencies of West Bengal will be a major test of strength for the TMC and the BJP.

While the TMC will be keen on proving that its electoral dominance in the state is still intact, the BJP will be desperate to carry forward the momentum it gained in the Lok Sabha elections and prove that its success can also be repeated at the state level.

"In the Lok Sabha polls, we had swept Haryana and Maharashtra. But in less than six months, the result of the Assembly polls shows that although Narendra Modi as prime minister is unchallenged at the national level, the same cannot be said for the state leaders when it comes to Assembly elections," a senior state BJP leader told PTI on condition of anonymity.

"So we are bit apprehensive that the same trend may not continue in West Bengal," he told the news agency.

The by-elections in Kharagpur Sadar in West Medinipur district, Kaliaganj in North Dinajpur district and Karimpur in Nadia district will be held on November 25.

The by-elections will be the first major elections in Bengal after the Lok Sabha elections. The stakes will be high for the BJP for several reasons. First, the saffron party will need to prove that like the Lok Sabha elections it can also take the TMC head-on at the state level. BJP emerged as the principal Opposition in the state by winning 18 seats in the Lok Sabha elections.

The battle between the saffron party and TMC will involve two key factors namely the NRC and Citizenship Amendment bill (CAB) and the minority voters who dominate the Karimpur and Kaliganj Assembly seats.

The NRC fear and subsequent suicides in Bengal have put the BJP in a spot. As its central and state leaders have already made tall claims about conducting NRC in Bengal, the BJP can neither back down from the claim nor go totally all out about it.

"The panic that followed the NRC exercise in Assam has taken the winds out of the BJP's sails to some extent. So in order to counter the narrative of the TMC on the NRC, we had come up with the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019 in which we said, all Hindu refugees will be accorded citizenship. It has to be seen which narrative gets accepted in Karimpur and Kaliaganj," the BJP leader told PTI.

If the saffron party presses on its NRC demand too much during the campaign, it will face the risk of not only further consolidating minority voters in favour of the TMC but it may also alienate Dalit Hindu voters most of whom came to Bengal after the Partition.

These Dalit voters form a substantial portion of the electorate in Karimpur and Kaliganj. The exclusion of more than 10 lakh Hindu Bengalis from the final NRC list in Assam will further complicate the situation for the BJP.

The saffron party is now keen on highlighting the prospect of refugee Hindus getting citizenship through the CAB.

TMC will be keen on capitalising on the panic over NRC in the state and the consequent suicides. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is leading the charge to put the blame on the BJP for this and stop their advance in Bengal.

The Kharagpur Sadar Assembly seat won by BJP state president Dilip Ghosh in the 2016 Assembly elections will witness a prestige fight between the BJP and the TMC.
"We are confident of winning all the three assembly seats in the by-polls. The people of West Bengal have made up their mind to defeat the TMC in 2021 Assembly polls in the state," Dilip Ghosh told PTI.

According to sources in the TMC, the chief minister is keen on delivering a major blow to the BJP by bagging the seat. They also said that TMC is planning to field a heavyweight candidate. As for the Congress whose late Gyan Singh Sohanpal won from Kharagpur Sadar 10 times it is keen on at least putting up a decent performance in its erstwhile bastion.

"Apart from local issues and rural distress due to the Centre's economic policies, the TMC in its campaign for the by-polls will highlight the BJP's threat of imposing NRC in the state which will turn legal citizens into refugees," TMC secretary-general Partha Chatterjee told PTI.

As for the CPM-led Left Front and Congress, they have decided to once again join forces in the by-elections. Sources in both sides said that while Congress will contest the Kharagpur Sadar and Kalianganj seat, the CPM will contest the Karimpur seat. Facing a steady decline in Bengal both will try to regain some lost ground.

"We are hopeful that with both the CPI(M) and the Congress fighting together, people will realize that the Congress-CPI(M) alliance can be the only alternative to the TMC, as a communal force like the BJP will never be accepted in the state," Congress state president Somen Mitra told PTI.

The by-elections were necessitated after sitting BJP MLA from Kharagpur Sadar Dilip Ghosh got elected to the Lok Sabha. TMC MLA from Karimpur Mahua Moitra also became an MP. The Kaliaganj seat fell vacant following the death of Congress MLA Pramatha Nath Roy.

 

(With inputs from PTI)

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