It’s election season again in West Bengal, if only in the form of bypolls for a couple of seats.
The contests are for the Asansol Lok Sabha and the Ballygunge assembly constituency.
The state’s ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) has fielded two former union ministers from the Bharartiya Janata Party (BJP). While Shatrughan Sinha is fighting for the Asansol parliamentary seat, Babul Supriyo is the Trinamool nominee for Ballygunge. The bypolls for the two constituencies will be held on April 12.
The death of TMC MLA Subrata Mukherjee necessitated a contest for the Ballygunge assembly seat. And Babul Supriyo, who was the Asansol MP from the BJP, resigned and switched to the Trinamool, leading to a by-election.
The fight for the Asansol seat should be particularly interesting, say observers. The TMC has never won here. The constituency was a bastion of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) that consistently held on to it since 1989 until singer-politician Supriyo snatched it for the BJP in 2014 and won it again in 2019. Now he is in Trinamool, which has picked Shatrughan Sinha for the seat. Analysts say the actor-politician, originally from Bihar, stands a good chance of winning as the seat has about 40% non-Bengali voters.
Supriyo netted 51.16% votes for the BJP here in 2019, winning by a margin of about 2 lakh votes.
In the state elections held last year, however, of the seven assembly constituencies under the Asansol Lok Sabha seat, the BJP could win only two with the TMC picking up the rest.
So Trinamool appears confident of winning the seat this time. Party national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee, who is also the nephew of TMC chairperson and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, himself campaigned for Shatrughan Sinha and said, “This vote is not to elect but to protest.”
The TMC, which is also attempting to build itself up as a national alternative to the Bharatiya Janata Party ahead of the 2024 parliamentary polls, has taken up the issue of rising prices, particularly of fuel, as a weapon to fight for the two seats.
The BJP has fielded its South Asansol MLA Agnimitra Paul for the Lok Sabha seat. The Left’s nominee is Partha Mukherjee.
Party leader Jiten Tiwari said, “The people are unhappy with the TMC— the way they behaved during the municipal elections, the way Babul has not performed, all this will have an effect on the voting.
The BJP and other opposition parties have repeatedly accused the ruling Trinamool Congress of perpetrating violence against their leaders and workers, particularly around elections.
The union ministry of home affairs has deployed five additional companies of paramilitary forces in the poll-bound areas of Ballygunge and Asansol. Earlier, 133 companies had been sent in.
The Ballygunge assembly seat has for long been a TMC bastion. The late Subrata Mukherjee won here with 70% votes in last year’s elections.
This time the party candidate is Babul Supriyo. Observers say the contest shouldn’t be too tough for him. But some wards in Ballygunge are Muslim dominated and the Left has fielded Saira Shah Halim, niece of veteran actor Naseeruddin Shah, they point out. The BJP candidate is Keya Ghosh.
The Left is trying to pull the minority votes and this may erode some of Trinamool’s support, according to analysts. Also, some TMC workers are said to be unhappy with the choice of Supriyo as he, not long ago, had launched several verbal attacks on the party and Mamata herself when he was in the BJP.