Over seven lakh people will decide the fate of a total of 18 candidates as Kharagpur Sadar, Kaliaganj and Karimpur Assembly seats go to bypoll on Monday.
Amidst Union Home Minister’s Amit Shah’s pitch for a nationwide NRC exercise and the Supreme Court’s recent Ayodhya verdict in favour of a Ram temple, the bypolls are expected to be a litmus test for the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) and BJP — which emerged as a main opposition in the state after the Lok Sabha polls earlier this year — ahead of 2021 state elections.
The Congress and CPI(M)-led Left Front, which have been pushed to distant third and fourth in the state, are contesting the bypolls after entering into an electoral understanding.
The Congress is contesting the Kaliagnj and Kharagpur Sadar seats, while the CPI(M) is contesting the Karimpur.
On Monday, voting will be held in a total of 801 polling stations from 7 am amid strict security arrangements by 13 companies of central armed forces.
The Assembly constituencies of Kharagpur Sadar and Karimpur fell vacant after sitting MLAs Dilip Ghosh and Mahua Moitra won the Lok Sabha polls this year, while the bypoll to Kaliaganj seat was necessitated following the death of Congress MLA Pramatha Nath Ray on May 31.
In West Midnapore’s Kharagpur Sadar seat, BJP’s Prem Chandra Jha is contesting against Congress-Left Front alliance candidate Chittaranjan Mandal and TMC’s Pradip Sarkar, while in Uttar Dinajpur’s Kaliaganj, Congress-Left Front candidate Dhitashree Ray, Pramatha Nath’s daughter, is in fray against TMC’s Tapan Deb Sinha and BJP’s Kamal Chandra Sarkar. In Nadia district’s Karimpur, where the BJP gained a massive ground during the Lok Sabha polls, the party’s Joy Prakash Majumdar is taking on TMC’s Bimalendu Singha Roy and Left Front-Congress alliance candidate Golam Rabbi.
BJP candidate, West Bengal vice-president Majumdar says people have seen the misrule of the TMC in the last eight years and want a change. “The ruling party has used police to terrorise the Opposition. It has indulged in appeasement politics. But the BJP believes in development for all and that’s why we received 18 seats from Bengal in the Lok Sabha. In the bypoll too, we will receive the support.”
But, TMC candidate Roy differs: “As per the Lok Sabha poll trends, we are still ahead of the BJP in terms of votes.”
The CPI(M), which came second in Karimpur in 2016 Assmebly polls, stood at number four in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
“We are hoping to get a positive response,” says Rabbi.
The bypoll results will be declared on November 28.
The real test for the BJP, however, will be to overcome the relentless campaign of the TMC and Left-Congress combine against Shah’s recent NRC announcement, while the Supreme Court’s Ayodhya verdict in favour of the construction of a Ram temple might give wind to the sails of the saffron party.
The exclusion of a large number of Hindus from the NRC in neighbouring Assam is also a point of concern for the saffron party, which has promised to carry out the exercise in Bengal, if voted to power in 2021.
While, for the TMC, which witnessed a slump in its number of seats — down from 34 in 2014 to 22 in Lok Sabha this time — it is about regaining its lost ground.
The bypolls will also decide whether the Congress and the Left Front, which have joined hands after three years, are relevant in Bengal politics.
Both the TMC and BJP are claiming to win all three seats.
BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya says the party is confident of winning all three seats. “The people of Bengal have made up their mind to defeat the TMC in 2021 Assembly polls in the state. This election will pave way for the party to increase its tally in the state Assembly.”
The bypolls will also show whether the TMC’s mass outreach programme Didi Ke Bolo (Tell didi), launched after the Lok Sabha polls, has borne any fruit.
TMC secretary general Partha Chatterjee says the people have realised that the BJP is a “communal” party, which divides people on religious lines. “The NRC move has rendered over 19 lakh citizens illegal in Assam. We have made it clear that we will not allow the NRC exercise in Bengal. People have responded positively and we will win all three seats.”
State Congress president Somen Mitra says: “We want to show that the Congress and Left combine is a real alternative to the TMC and BJP.”
—with PTI inputs