Elections are always pregnant with possibilities. By-elections are less so, but it is not that every day we come across a leader who has led her or his party to a significant victory but has been defeated in her constituency and is seeking people’s blessings to enter the assembly again. That is why Bhabanipur, wherefrom Mamata Banerjee is contesting after being defeated in Nandigram, has hogged the limelight nationwide.
The day of high-voltage by-poll started peacefully in Bhabanipur, but voters’ apathy was evident. While at Jangipur and Shamsherganjh, two other assembly constitutes where polls got countermanded due to deaths of candidates, more than 16 per cent votes were polled by 9 in the morning, at Bhabanipur it was less than half (7.57). CPI(M) candidate Srijiv Biswas described it as ‘rejection’ of a chief minister ‘by the people’ who in her own interest has imposed another election on them just five months after they chose their MLA.
Though Mamata Banerjee is expected to win it easy, she has not left any stone unturned during the election for obvious reasons. Surely, her confidence has taken a beating after she lost in Nandigram, where her long-time-lieutenant Suvendu Adhikari defeated her. She described the by-poll as a major challenge.
Again, Bhabanipur has 40 per cent non-Bengali voters, prompting the BJP to field Priyanka Tibrewal, a young lawyer who shot to fame as an applicant and pleader in a post-poll violence case in the High Court. That is how she has also become a symbol of atrocities on what Suvendu Adhikari describes as ‘people belonging to Sanatan Dharma’. It forced the CM to declare that she would not allow Bengal to become Pakistan.
Bhabanipur falls under Dakshin Kolkata Lok Sabha constituency represented by Mamata Banerjee six times (1991-2011). She represented the Bhabanipur assembly constituency twice (2011-21) before shifting to Nandigram this time. But over the years Bhabanipur has become less inconsistent for the TMC. The gap in this segment between TMC and BJP candidates was a slender 3,168 votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, though Mala Roy of TMC won Dakshin Kolkata by a margin of more than one-and-a-half lakh votes. During the assembly election, this time TMC won it by more than 28 thousand votes.
This morning Priyanka Tibrewal alleged that TMC MLA Madan Mitra was trying to purposely shut the voting machine at ward number 72 with an intention to capture the booth. To this Firhad Hakim, the most important Muslim leader of the TMC, retorted, “We don’t have to capture boots as we have captured people’s hearts.”
(The author Diptendra Raychaudhuri is a senior journalist based in Kolkata. He has a wide range of experience in covering West Bengal politics and has authored several books)