Bypoll for the Bhabanipur assembly seat will take place tomorrow i.e. September 30. The result of the bypoll will be announced after counting of votes on October 3.
Things seem to be going remarkably well for West Bengal CM and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee. After landslide victory in West Bengal Assembly Elections in the month of May, Mamata’s campaign to expand beyond the eastern state has gained significant momentum, and she has undoubtedly shown readiness to be a Prime Ministerial candidate in 2024.
In the recent times, Mamata has inducted former president of the Congress party’s women’s wing Sushmita Dev into the TMC. She will possibly lead the party’s charge in Tripura and Assam. Mamata’s nephew and TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee has been making frequent visits to Tripura and trying to accomodate the vaccum created after the left was comprehensively defeated by the saffron party. Congress leader and former Goa Chief Minister Luizinho Faleiro is likely to join the TMC today with his loyalists. Speculations around Punjab Congress fiasco suggest that Navjot Singh Sidhu, who recently resigned as Punjab Congress chief, may join the Mamata Banerjee-led party. Election strategist Prashant Kishor, who was reportedly in talks with the Congress party to join mainstream politics, is also rumoured to have been in contact with the TMC.
It would be premature to assume that TMC will easily gain foothold in western or northern states. Too many regional parties have earlier tried this expansion route but rarely succeeded. Moreover, despite not nullifying the plausible popularity she enjoys in Bengal or neighbouring states, could Mamata Banerjee create for herself a pan-India image and appeal to challenge Modi? Only time will tell.
To speak of the present, the TMC is in a very good phase and the momentum has not dropped since the assembly elections.
If there was something that was bothering Mamata Banerjee during this smooth run, it has now been taken care of. After Mamata Banerjee lost her seat in Nandigram during the assembly elections, she, as per rules, had 6 months to get re-elected to the assembly or council. However, there were concerns in the wake of Covid-19 that whether the Election Commission will schedule bypoll for Bhabanipur seat, where Sovandeb Chattopadhyay, the TMC MLA vacated the seat for Mamata Banerjee. Though after the Chief Secretaries of Odisha and West Bengal informed the EC that the COVID-19 situation in their States was under control, the election body took a call.
On September 5, the Election Commission announced that bypoll to the Bhabanipur assembly seat in West Bengal would be held on September 30. It also informed that counting on the seat will take place on October 3.
Traditionally, Bhabanipur has been a Mamata Banerjee constituency and she’s resident there. She has been elected twice from the seat. In 2011 bypoll, Mamata Banerjee received 77.46% of votes. Her opponent from CPI (M) could gather only 20.43% of votes. In 2016 assembly elections, Mamata again won Bhabanipur constituency with 47.67% of votes, while her opponent from the Congress polled 29.26 % of votes. In 2021 assembly elections, TMC candidate Sovandeb Chatterjee garnered 57.71 % of votes, while the BJP candidate could poll 35.16% of votes. Mamata Banerjee has had a long run as an MP from South Kolkata. The stat that many perhaps unknowingly ignore that she was an MP from the seat for 20 years (from 1991 to 2011).
The stats clearly show that the TMC is very much in control of the constituency. Considering that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is fighting the bypoll to continue in the CM chair, the battle from outside looks heavily inclined in the TMC’s favour. However, it is also a fight that Mamata Banerjee cannot afford to lose. If by any chance, probability of which looks bleak presently, Mamata Banerjee lost the Bhabanipur bypoll, her whole campaign to achieve her ‘national’ ambition would fall flat on face.
The BJP, which is the prime opposition party in the state now, has fielded advocate and vice president of party’s youth wing in West Bengal, Priyanka Tibrewal. Tibrewal was one of the petitioners who sought an inquiry into the post-poll violence in May, in Calcutta high court. Electorally, Tibrewal has no prior experience and is an entrant.
While Srijib Biswas was fielded by the Left Front, the Congress has decided not to nominate a candidate for the election.
Bhabanipur has witnessed a high-voltage campaign for the bypoll. The BJP, despite the odds stacked against them, has carried out intensive campaigning of its own. Union Petroleum minister Hardeep Singh Puri campaigned in Bhabanipur last week. Smriti Irani, the Union Women and Child Development Minister, visited the constituency three days later.
Left’s campaign for the seat looks very lonely from outset. According to The Print’s report, Shrijeeb Biswas, the candidate that the Communist Part of India (Marxist) has nominated, “could manage to get only nine to ten party workers and volunteers to campaign with him”. The left party appeared bereft of resources or manpower in this contest as “Biswas went on a door-to-door campaign with a lone autorickshaw following him, in which a party worker sat with a mic seeking votes for the candidate”, the report said.
Mamata’s emotional appeal
Mamata’s appeal to her electorate has been rather emotional than her other opponents. At her first election meeting in Ekbalpore area, in South Kolkata, Mamata Banerjee told the people: “Cast your vote even if it rains. I will suffer if I don’t get even one vote. Don’t be complacent and assume that my victory is ensured. Please don’t do that. If you want to see me as chief minister you must vote for me. Every vote is crucial. If I do not win, someone else will become the chief minister since we are in the majority.”
Bhabanipur is 'Mini India', many communities reside here. I have won 6 times from this seat…Even if it rains, please step out & vote for me if you want me to continue as CM: West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, ahead of September 30 Assembly bypolls. pic.twitter.com/t6jAx4r5I0
— ANI (@ANI) September 23, 2021
Though the West Bengal chief minister sounds assertive of her victory, she’s also cautious of the fact that people may not turn up to vote if they see it’s a no-contest. An upset or a mishap is not something Mamata Banerjee, as a politician, wants at this point. And she’s making sure this particular message is rightly conveyed to her constituents.
Fall in vote %
As pointed out in the first half of this article, though Mamata Banerjee won 2011 bypoll by 77.46% of votes, the vote percentage in 2016 assembly elections had come down to 47.67.
Many political analysts go to the extent of saying that Mamata’s decision to contest assembly polls from Nandigram in 2021 elections came on the back of diminishing victory margins and increasing vote shares of her rivals in Bhabanipur. The saffron party tanuted Mamata Banerjee that she fled Bhabanipur to save herself from an impending defeat.
However, TMC candidate Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay won the seat in 2021 assembly elections by 57.71%.
The prestige fight
Mamata Banerjee, in her bid to come up as an alternative against Mr Modi, turned a lot of national attention towards the eastern state. Never in the history of Bengal assembly elections did any receive the kind of pan-India coverage and following like the 2021 elections. The victory by Mamata Banerjee, against the full-fledged BJP machinary, gave many Modi critics a respite that an opposition party can comprehensively beat the saffron party, without having the amount of resources and finances that they have. This strata of Indian electorate looks at Mamata Banerjee as someone who can take on the mighty BJP.
If Mamata Banerjee, in a major upset, loses Bhabanipur bypoll, the voting for which will take place tomorrow, will her pan-India appeal really resonate with all sections of the country? The BJP has already used Mamata’s Nandigram defeat to discredit her. Mamata Banerjee is fighting Bhabanipur bypoll, not only to continue as CM of Bengal but also to prove her credibility as leader. And that means, she can’t afford to lose another election herself within the span of five months. The fact that this seat has been her traditional fortress, and has continued to shower her and her party with votes over the years, it becomes even more important for Mamata Banerjee to ensure that there is no space for any mishaps.
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