The joint candidate of the Congress and the Left Front, Bayron Biswas, defeated TMC’s Debashish Banerjee in West Bengal’s Sagardighi assembly bypoll in what is seen as an early warning for Mamata Banerjee’s party ahead of panchayat elections.
The by-election was necessitated following the demise of TMC MLA Subrata Saha, who had been winning the seat for the state’s ruling party since 2011. This time the TMC had fielded a distant cousin of party supremo Mamata Banerjee to retain the seat where its victory margin in the 2021 assembly elections was over 50,000 votes. The defeat of Banerjee by a margin of over 22,000 votes is an indication that euphoria over the TMC’s landslide victory two years ago has started fading following arrest of some of its top leaders on corruption charges.
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Sagardighi, a rural seat, has more than 60 per cent minority population, which constitutes the core support base for the TMC in the past elections. Any shift in the minority votes in the constituency should be a matter of grave concern for the TMC. Some signs of restlessness in the community over their support to the TMC were seen developing after the death of Anish Khan, a popular minority youth leader, early last year. The Sagardighi results seems to be reaffirming the trend.
Sensing trouble in its minority support base, the TMC tried to raise the bogey of the NRC during the election campaign, saying that the Congress-Left candidate has a secret understanding with the BJP. “A vote to the Congress-Left candidate would only strengthen the BJP’s plan to implement the NRC,” TMC general secretary Abhishek Banerjee was heard saying during the election campaign. To buttress his claim, Banerjee even showed a purported picture of a rally wherein Leader of Opposition in Assembly and BJP MLA Suvendu Adhikari was seen with Biswas, a beedi baron.
A large number of people from the constituency migrate to different parts of the country every year for jobs. Migration has further increased after the Centre stopped releasing MGNREGA funds to the state in view of corruption charges, said Moinul Haque, a school teacher from the constituency.
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“Growing rural distress following the withdrawal of funding for rural welfare schemes such as MGNREGA definitely played a role in our defeat,” admitted TMC leader Mukul Bairagya.
For the Congress-Left, the victory means they will finally have a representative in the state legislative assembly. Both the parties had drawn blank in the last assembly polls. “This victory shows that the Congress is not yet a spent force in the state,” said State Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.
Meanwhile, BJP candidate Dilip Saha’s poor show maintained the trend of his party’s continuous electoral slide in Bengal ever since its defeat in the last assembly elections.