Despite BJP's Buzz, Scales in Bhabanipur Overwhelmingly Tilted Towards Mamata
The bypolls have emerged as a prestige battle for the BJP.
The Quint DAILY
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The Bhabanipur bypoll in West Bengal is creating a lot of buzz on social media and various TV channels headquartered in Delhi/Noida. The Quint took a stroll on the streets of Bhabanipur in Kolkata, which goes to poll on Thursday, 30 September, to understand the mood of the people.
Monday, 27 September, was the last day of campaigning as the Election Commission of India (EC) increased the silence period to 72 hours owing to the prevailing COVID-19 situation. On the final day, BJP deployed 80 leaders including Union Cabinet ministers, MPs, and MLAs to campaign in 8-municipality wards that constitute the Bhabanipur Assembly constituency.
The saffron party also deployed Union Cabinet ministers like Hardeep Singh Puri, Smriti Irani to campaign in Bhabanipur. BJP has gone all out for the by-election in this particular seat as incumbent Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is contesting to re-elect herself to the Assembly. And if BJP can pull off an upset here, it will create a political tsunami in Bengal, which will even impact national politics.
But that's a mammoth task we are talking about. Bhabanipur has remained a Trinamool Congress ‘(TMC) citadel for some time now. In the recently concluded Assembly election, TMC clocked around 58 percent of the votes and defeated the BJP by a margin of 28,719 votes.
'Because of Didi...'
Govind Prasad, a tea stall owner and a resident of Bhabanipur constituency said, “Why will I vote for BJP, what have they done for us? Because of Didi (Mamata) my kids are getting free education. My son got a cycle. We got the Swasthya Sathi (health insurance) card. We are living in peace here, what more can we ask from the government? Didi will easily win from here, there is no doubt.”
Prasad is a second-generation Bihari settled in Kolkata. His father had moved to the city 40 years back from Bihar’s Darbhanga district.
This south Kolkata Assembly constituency comprises of a 23-24 percent Muslim electorate, around 40-42 percent Bengali-speaking voters and around 33-34 percent non-Bengali speaking voters. The last segment includes Marwaris, Gujaratis, Punjabis, and other people, like Prasad, who trace their origins to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
Krsna Dwaipayan Mukherjee, 30, an artist by profession and resident of ward no 72 said, "After the absolute whitewash in the last election, chances of BJP winning this time is negligible. In spite of the aggressive promotion through public meetings and the automated voice messages via phone calls, there are no signs of any influence on the general public.”
A walk from Jadubabur Bazar through Patuapara towards Chittaranjan Seva Sadan hospital reveal hardly any flexes or cutouts of BJP, usually a typical BJP election campaigning medium.
In fact, this reporter found that old BJP cutouts of Rudranil Ghosh (BJP candidate in the last election) are still visible in many places.
In contrast, TMC has plastered almost every house, lamp post, wall of Bhabanipur with Mamata Banerjee’s flexes, cutouts and wall graffities. The Quint also spotted that in many places, the BJP candidate’s flexes and cutouts were broken and lying on the ground.
On Monday morning, during the campaign, BJP national vice-president Dilip Ghosh was pushed and heckled by alleged TMC supporters, prompting his security personnel to whip out a pistol. One BJP supporter was badly injured in the head.
Reacting to the incident Ghosh said, "The law and order situation in the area is not conducive to hold a bypoll. If an MP can be attacked, then imagine the situation common voters are facing. I demand postponement of polling till the situation normalises in Bhabanipur...till the time it is conducive for holding a free and fair election.”
A delegation of BJP leaders later went to the office of the state's chief electoral officer and complained against TMC MLA Madan Mitra and DC South division Akash Magharia.
Speaking to the reporters, Mitra said, “Everybody has the right to campaign, but not to threaten people with a weapon. It's not Godhra or Bhatpara, it's Bhabanipur. BJP will get a befitting reply for its actions on 30 September.”
A shopkeeper from the area, who did not wish to be named said, “TMC only started the ruckus here. Why are they resorting to violence, if they are so confident of winning? That boy's head was bleeding, what kind of politics is this?”
Kolkata Police, on Tuesday, 28 September, arrested eight people in connection to this case.
'A Mere Formality'
The saffron party had, multiple times, objected to the by-election at this point of time and said that the “law and order situation and COVID-19 conditions in the state are not appropriate to conduct the by-elections.” A public interest litigation (PIL) was also filed in Calcutta High Court alleging that the announcement of a bypoll to the Bhabanipur Assembly seat was 'unconstitutional'.
On Tuesday, 28 September, the Calcutta High Court ruled that the Bhabanipur by-election won’t be cancelled. However, the court also observed that West Bengal Chief Secretary's letter urging the EC to hold the bypoll was 'inappropriate'.
Aman Raj Singh, a resident of Alipore and voter of Bhabanipur said, “This election is a mere formality. Like last time, BJP is creating unnecessary hype. They have no organisation here, that’s why they are bringing in Sambit Patra and Smriti Irani for campaigning.”
In the bygone Assembly election, TMC was leading in six of the eight municipal wards, which comprised the Assembly segment. This time the ruling party also deployed four senior ministers, two MPs, and two MLAs to supervise and lead the campaign in Bhabanipur.
Mamata Banerjee herself addressed eight public meetings and close-door workers' meetings. The party’s national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee also addressed two public meetings and one indoor meeting with members and representatives of various communities.
Why is the TMC campaigning so hard in Bhabanipur? Why are so many top leaders deployed in TMC's bastion? Is TMC worried?
The Quint asked the state agricultural minister, Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay, who was the elected MLA from Bhabanipur in the April-May Assembly polls. He vacated the seat for Banerjee to contest and is now contesting the impending bypoll in the state's Khardah constituency.
“We put in so much time and effort for the Bhabanipur bypoll because we want to increase our winning margin. There is no question of doubt here, our leader is going to win with a record margin,” Chattopadhyay said.
(Himadri Ghosh is a Kolkata-based journalist reporting on politics and policy in the state of West Bengal. He tweets @onlineghosh. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the authors' own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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