Bengal Bypolls: TMC Cinches Unexpected Win, Defeats BJP, Congress in Their Bastions

The results, as even one losing candidate representing the BJP said, are being seen as a “mandate against NRC”.

New Delhi: The Trinamool Congress sprung back to life with victories in all three assembly constituencies that went to bypolls in West Bengal. In the results that were declared Thursday morning, TMC not only retained the Karimpur seat, but wrested Kaliaganj and Kharagpur from the Congress and the BJP.

In a close contest, TMC candidate Tapan Deb Singha defeated BJP’s Kamal Chandra Sarkar by a margin of 2,304 votes in Kaliaganj. The by-election was necessitated by the death of Congress’s Parmathanath Roy. However, the grand-old party is unlikely to  derive much confidence from its performance in what is seen as its stronghold as it was pushed to the third spot.

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TMC’s Bimalendy Singha Roy won the Karimpur seat easily by defeating BJP’s Jay Prakash Majumdar by 24,119 votes. The constituency was vacated by Mahua Moitra, who became a Lok Sabha MP.

Pradip Sarkar of the TMC defeated the BJP’s Prem Chandra Jha in Kharagpur by a hefty margin of 20,811 votes. This came as a blow for the BJP as the seat had been vacated by none other than the BJP state president Dilip Ghosh, who won the Lok Sabha polls. Congress candidate Chittaranjan Mandal came in third.

A boost for TMC

TMC had performed much below expectations in the 2019 parliamentary polls, with a fledgling  BJP winning in as many as 18 of the 42 seats in the state. Since then, chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who was one of the strongest and most vocal critics of the Narendra Modi government, appears to have adopted a non-confrontational strategy towards the Centre, and is instead concentrating on Bengal’s regional issues.

Her changed stance, combined with a poor selection of opposition candidates, seemed to have paid off in these bypolls. The victory will be made sweeter by the fact that TMC won Kharagpur (Urban) seat, which has been a BJP stronghold for a long time. At the same time, the party won Kaliaganj in Uttar Dinajpur district, which has always been a strong Congress bastion.

Congratulating party workers, Banerjee said, “In the 21 years since the formation of our party, we never won either Kharagpur Sadar and Kaliaganj seats. I want to thank all the people for this victory. From leaders and workers, all have worked day and night to make this happen. This will only make us humble and work for the people in the days to come.”

The bypoll victory would come as a morale booster for the chief minister, who is looking to get a third term in the state with assembly elections due in 2021.

Political trends

One trend that was visible in the 2019 parliamentary polls reflected more clearly in the bypolls. While TMC is still the biggest party in the state, the BJP is fast replacing the traditional opposition. Both the Congress and Left Front have become casualties in the process.

For example, Congress with 54% votes won Kaliaganj in the 2016 assembly polls. However, its vote share plummeted to merely 9% while BJP increased its share from 13% to 43.4% in the same time period. Similarly, the traditional opposition in Karimpur the Left Front’s share dropped from 38% to 10%. BJP became the biggest beneficiary as its vote share increased from 11.7% to 33.3%.

In Kharagpur, while BJP lost its seat, its vote share remains the same. However, the Congress’s share went down to 15% from 36%. The shift of Congress vote bank towards the TMC is worth noting.

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What comes across clearly is the way Bengal has turned into a strongly polarised polity between the TMC and BJP in Bengal. If the pattern continues, the Congress and the Left Front will become non-players in 2021.

If the bypolls results are any indication, the stunning performance of the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls may have consolidated all those who are opposed to its politics under the TMC umbrella. For instance, TMC trailed the BJP in Kharagpur by more than 44,000 votes in the Lok Sabha polls. However, it seems to have made that up in the bypolls.

Similarly, in Kaliaganj, a part of the Raiganj Lok Sabha constituency, TMC was behind by more than 57,000 votes in the parliamentary polls. TMC’s victory in the assembly seat, where it traditionally had only a marginal presence, therefore has greater meaning.

Banerjee made it a point to consolidate anti-BJP voices in her congratulatory message to the TMC workers. “The CPI(M) and the Congress, instead of trying to strengthen themselves, are helping the BJP in West Bengal,” she said, adding that the results were a reflection of “people’s anger” against the BJP.

The wins therefore became an opportune moment for the chief minister to also take a jibe at the BJP. “We dedicate this victory to the people of Bengal. The BJP is getting paid back for its arrogance of power and for insulting the people of Bengal,” Mamata was quoted as saying by news agency PTI.

She also said that the results were a “mandate against NRC (National Register of Citizens)” and in favour of  “secularism and unity”.

Also read: Trinamool Must Check Its Own Intolerance to Counter the Rise of BJP in Bengal

“The countdown has started. They are not interested in generating employment or development. They are more interested in dividing people over religion and threatening others,” she said.

Her reaction comes after her conspicuous silence on the Ayodhya verdict, Centre’s steps to dilute Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, and more recently Maharashtra’s political fiasco.

Even TMC MP Mahua Moitra slammed the BJP and its overconfidence:

BJP leader blames party’s campaign on NRC for his defeat

Kamal Chandra Sarkar, the BJP candidate who lost from Kaliaganj, also blamed the NRC for his defeat. “…one thing is clear; the minorities voted for TMC. I admit that that National Register of Citizens (NRC) is the reason behind my defeat. There was fear among the people regarding NRC,” he said

He added, “We failed to make people understand that NRC in Assam was different. NRC is implemented by the Centre and not the BJP as a party. People thought BJP was implementing NRC and this went against us.”

Uttarakhand bypoll

Meanwhile, the BJP won the Pithoragarh seat in Uttarakhand comfortably. By-election was necessitated here owing to the demise of three-time BJP MLA and former minister Prakash Pant. The saffron party had fielded his wife Chandra Pant from the seat. She defeated the Congress’s Anju Lunthi by 3267 votes.