Trinamool wins byelections in three Assembly seats in West Bengal

Published : November 28, 2019 20:13 IST

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee addressing the media in Kolkata after the Trinamool’s victory in Assembly byelections in the State, on November 28. Photo: PTI

The Trinamool Congress’ victory in three Assembly byelections in West Bengal, in Karimpur, Kharagpur Sadar and Kaliaganj constituencies, could not have come at a better time for the party, which was struggling to overcome its setback in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, in which it lost 14 seats to the fast-rising Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

In Karimpur, Jay Prakash Majumdar, vice president of the Bengal unit of the BJP, lost to Bimalendu Sinhar Roy of the Trinamool by 24,073 votes. In third place was the Communist Party of India (Marxist) candidate Golam Rabbi, who secured 9.07 per cent of the votes polled. The CPI(M)-led Left Front and the Congress had a seat-sharing understanding for the three seats. While the Left fielded a candidate in Karimpur, it supported Congress candidates in Kharagpur Sadar and Kaliaganj.

While it was a given that the Trinamool would be able to retain Karimpur, the BJP’s shocking defeat in Kaliaganj and Kharagpur Sadar, where the Trinamool has not won before, came as big surprise. The Kharagpur Sadar seat was earlier held by BJP State president Dilip Ghosh and it fell vacant when Ghosh successfully contested the Lok Sabha election. However, the BJP candidate, Prem Chandra Jha, was trounced by the Trinamool’s Pradip Sarkar by 20,853 votes in what was perceived as a BJP stronghold. The Congress candidate came third, securing 14.8 per cent of the votes (22,631 votes) in its erstwhile bastion. Many in the BJP were unhappy with the choice of the candidate.

Equally stunning was BJP’s defeat in Kaliaganj in Uttar Dinajpur, north Bengal. In the Lok Sabha election, the BJP had a lead of around 56,000 in this particular Assembly segment. Although the Trinamool candidate, Tapan Deb Singha, scraped through, securing 97,428 votes, against the BJP’s Kamal Chandra Sarkar (95,014 votes), the victory was considered significant because the Trinamool was all but wiped out of north Bengal in the Lok Sabha election. The Congress candidate, Dhitashri Roy, could manage only 18,857 votes (8.65 per cent) in a seat that the party had won 11 times since 1962.

At a time when the Trinamool is facing a continuous defection of its leaders and workers to the BJP, these victories will serve as a huge morale-booster for the rank and file that for the last few months has languished as party leaders faced allegations of corruption and high-handedness. Moreover, with the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) announcing its decision to contest the Assembly election in the State in 2021, this victory is seen as a much-needed shot in the arm for the beleaguered party. After the results were out, Chief Minister and Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee quipped, “Ek, dui, teen/BJP biday neen” (one, two and three/ Goodbye to BJP). According to her, it is the BJP’s “arrogance and pride” that is leading to its downfall.

For the BJP, which has been going from strength to strength in the State and even appearing to be in a position to pose as a serious threat to the Trinamool in the 2021 Assembly election, the white-wash comes as a big setback. Several factors appear to have come together to act against the party—the most prominent being the fear psychosis generated by the spectre of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) that the BJP central leadership has promised to implement in West Bengal soon. The Trinamool has been successful in making the most of that fear, which is not restricted to the minorities alone. “All the castes, communities together voted [against the BJP]. This is a victory of the people. The people have said ‘no NRC in West Bengal’. We do not want NRC in other parts of the country either,” said Mamata Banerjee.

According to highly placed sources in the BJP, another reason for the setback is the “constant interference” of the State-level leadership of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) in the functioning of the BJP in Bengal. “The scenario that was there when we won 18 seats (out of 42) immediately after the Lok Sabha election has changed rapidly in the last six months since the results were declared [in May]. The RSS’ constant interference in the running of the party—the manner in which leaders like Mukul Roy have been silenced, the prevention of people of other parties from joining the BJP, the choice of candidates, and so on—has been the main reason for this performance,” a senior BJP source told Frontline.

Several senior BJP leaders felt that while the RSS could act as an ideological guide to the party, its insistence on interfering in politics, where it lacked experience and ground-level knowledge at least in Bengal, was affecting the party adversely. The RSS, on the other hand, said the reason behind BJP’s defeat was the party’s “excess complacency and ego”.

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