The winner takes it all. The expected victory of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in the by-elections for the Asansol Lok Sabha and Ballygunge Assembly seats will allow the state’s ruling party to gloss over its failures and claim “all is well” in its regime.
“We consider this to be our people’s warm Shubho Nababarsho gift to our Ma-Mati-Manush organisation. Salute to the voters for reposing faith in us, yet again,” tweeted TMC supremo and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee after her party got decisive mandates in both the seats.
The TMC’s Shatrughan Sinha won the Asansol seat by a margin of over three lakh votes against BJP’s Agnimitra Paul. This is the TMC’s first-ever electoral victory in the constituency.
Babul Supriyo, the party’s Ballygunge candidate, pipped his nearest rival Saira Shah Halim of the CPI (M) by over 20,000 votes.
The victories were big enough for the TMC to claim a high moral ground. But even then, to claim that the twin wins are people’s warm Bengali New Year gift to the TMC, as claimed by Banerjee, is a gross misunderstanding of the mandate.
The party needs to read the verdict more carefully before ascribing it as an endorsement of its policies and actions.
BJP’s losses are TMC’s wins
The TMC government less than a year into its third term has been already plagued with serious intra-party tussles to control illegal businesses and syndicates and deterioration of law and order, particularly crime against women.
That something is rotten in the state of West Bengal is apparent from the recent horrific intra-party clashes in which eight people were burnt to death at Bagtui in Birbhum district, three back-to-back atrocities against women resulting in the death of two victims, mysterious killing of a student leader and the alleged recruitment scam in the government schools to name a few.
For these infirmities not getting reflected in the election results, the TMC should thank its rivals instead of resorting to self-adulation.
The state’s main opposition party, the BJP is in total disarray, divided among old and new guards. There has been a series of defections from the BJP to the TMC after the former got a drubbing in the 2021 assembly elections. Supriyo is among those who vaulted from the BJP in the recent past.
The remnant of the BJP organisation in the state is a divided house. Many senior leaders including Hooghly MP Locket Chatterjee in a closed-door organisational meeting on March 5 reportedly expressed “no confidence” on the party’s current state leadership under the presidentship of Sukanta Majumdar.
The degeneration in the BJP is so acute that it could not put up even a semblance of contest in the Ballygunge assembly constituency.
In Asansol Lok Sabha constituency that the BJP had won in 2014 and 2019, the party has been plagued with infighting.
To begin with, Agnimitra Paul was a reluctant candidate. Then during the campaigning led by two former TMC leaders Suvendu Adhikari and Jitendra Tiwari, old guards like Dilip Ghosh allegedly did not cooperate wholeheartedly, claimed BJP sources.
The BJP’s electoral decline in the state was visible even in recent local body elections where its vote shares slipped to the third position, behind the ruling TMC and the Left Front.
Revival of the Left
For the CPI(M) that had ruled the state uninterrupted for 34 years until it was dethroned in 2011 by the TMC, recovery from its historic low in the last assembly elections was too stiff a challenge.
Its vote share had plummeted to paltry 4.71 per cent in the assembly elections held last year. Even the biggest communist sympathiser did not expect the Left to make a turnaround within a year and to win by-elections against the ruling party with a formidable election machinery.
The way the CPI(M) put up a fight in the Ballygunge constituency in the heart of Kolkata, should be heartening for the comrades and a bleak warning for the TMC.
The by-election to the seat was necessitated due to the demise of veteran state politician and minister Subrata Mukherjee, who had won the seat last year by a margin of over 75,000 votes, which was more than 70 per cent of the total votes polled.
In the assembly elections, the BJP was in the second position with 20.68 per cent votes followed by the CPI(M) with just 5.61 per cent votes.
This time the CPI (M)’s vote share was more than 35 per cent as the TMC’s share dropped to about 48 per cent.
From the very beginning, there was resentment among a section of people over Supriyo’s candidature as he was an accused in the 2018 Asansol communal riot. Some civil society groups even embarked on a “no-vote-to-TMC” campaign.
TMC should take note of falling vote share
Instead of gloating over its victory, the TMC needs to reflect on the drop in its vote share in a Kolkata constituency, which has been a party stronghold for years.
In the non-Bengali dominated Asansol, the TMC’s decision to pit self-proclaimed ‘Bihari Babu’ Shatrughan Sinha paid dividends despite a relentless “outsider” campaign against him by the BJP.
The TMC got huge leads in the areas dominated by Hindi speaking voters and in the coal belts. Clearly, Mangal Singh (played by Sinha) of the 1979 Bollywood blockbuster Kaala Patthar did not lose his charm.
The results, no doubt, once again established the TMC’s dominating presence in the state. But there is an early warning in the Ballygunge, which will be perilously naive for the party to ignore.
For the CPI(M), though there is some definite sign of revival, it has a long way to go.
The starkest message in the mandate is for the BJP. The party cannot afford to live only on “Ram Bharose” in Bengal. It needs to look beyond its communal narrative.