Two and a half years after losing the Dhupguri seat in North Bengal to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2021 Assembly election in West Bengal, the Trinamool Congress won it back in a dramatic fashion in the byelection. In what was perceived as a “prestige fight” between the ruling party and the main opposition, Trinamool’s Nirmal Chandra Roy edged past the BJP’s Tapasi Roy by 4,309 votes.
Trinamool, with 96,613 votes, secured 46.28 per cent of the total votes, while the BJP, with 93,304 votes, managed to win 44.22 per cent. The Left-Congress combine could manage only 6.52 per cent of the votes, with Iswar Chandra Roy of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), winning only 13,666 votes.
Calling it a “historic election”, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said, “This is a big victory not just for north Bengal but also the whole of Bengal… As far as the rest of the country, in the seven byelections, the BJP has lost in four; even in a place like Uttar Pradesh. It has won in Tripura, but Tripura has only two Lok Sabha seats, so there is no reason for them to celebrate.” Mamata Banerjee added that this was a big win for the INDIA opposition alliance. “I want that people will make their decision in this manner only.”
Why Dhupguri matters
The Dhupguri byelection was crucial to both the BJP and the Trinamool ahead of the Lok Sabha election. For the BJP, it would have been a chance to stem its inexorable decline in the State since the 2021 Assembly election, and for the Trinamool, it was an opportunity to strike a telling blow in the saffron party’s stronghold of north Bengal, where it won six of its 18 Lok Sabha seats in the 2019 election.
In the 2021 Assembly election, the BJP’s Bishnupada Roy had wrested the Dhupguri seat from Trinamool’s sitting MLA, Mitali Roy, by 4,355 votes. It was a seat that the Trinamool had been winning since 2011. The seat, which fell vacant with the untimely death of the BJP MLA in July this year, was still considered a stronghold of the BJP—more so with the defection of Mitali to the saffron camp just two days ahead of the byelection.
With the Rajbanshi community vote share standing at around 37-40 per cent and the Matua community voters at around 27 per cent, and the BJP apparently enjoying the support of both the communities across the State, the advantage was clearly on the side of the BJP.
However, vicious infighting within the party, and its total failure to strengthen its political organisation from the grassroots level once again resulted in yet another electoral setback. Dhupguri is the third Assembly constituency, after Dinhata and Santipur, that the BJP lost control of in byelections after the 2021 Assembly elections, in which it had won 77 out of 294 seats.
According to the BJP, one of the factors that played a key role in swaying the support of the voters towards the Trinamool was the recent announcement by Trinamool general secretary, Abhishek Banerjee, that Dhupguri would be converted from a district block to a subdivision by the end of the year.
The demand to be made into a subdivision has been a long-standing one among the residents of the region. According to political observers, the situation may worsen for the BJP in the coming days. The psephologist Biswanath Chakraborty told Frontline, “The Dhupguri byelection was perhaps one of the most free and fair elections that took place in the State after a long period... Whatever be the allegations against the Trinamool, the Dhupguri results show that no political alternative has yet arrived to take Trinamool’s place in West Bengal.”