The BJP made inroads into West Bengal for the first time in 14 years by winning one of two assembly seats Tuesday and finishing second in the other, bucking a trend in the rest of the country where it suffered reverses.
The BJP’s win in the Basirhat Dakshin seat, traditionally a CPI(M) stronghold, and second-place finish in Chowringhee means it could emerge as a strong contender in a state where it last won in 1999, as an ally of the Trinamool Congress (TMC).
“We have emerged as the prime opposition. Now our target is the 2016 assembly polls and we need to work hard and oust the TMC,” said BJP national general secretary Siddharth Nath Singh.
The BJP’s Samik Bhattacharya defeated TMC candidate and former footballer Dipendu Biswas by 1,586 votes at Basirhat Dakshin.
About 100 km from Kolkata, Basirhat Dakshin borders Bangladesh and was one of the party’s focus areas after Narendra Modi raked up the issue of illegal migration during his Lok Sabha campaign. The population of Hindu refugees from Bangladesh, too, is high in this constituency.
The BJP had successfully drawn a distinction between Bangla-speaking Muslims in the area and illegal Bangladeshi Muslim migrants.
Party leaders say this worked in the party’s favour. Its tough stance against cow smuggling, which is rampant in the area, also seemed to work well with the local Hindu community.
At Chowringhee, the other assembly seat that went to polls, TMC’s Nayana Bandyopadhyay trounced BJP’s Ritesh Tiwari by 14,344 votes.
An ongoing CBI probe into the multi-crore Saradha chit fund scam, allegedly involving some TMC ministers, added colour to the bypolls.
TMC leader Mukul Roy, however, said the results showed the people refused to believe his party’s involvement in the scam. “It is clear that people did not buy the misinformation campaign that the opposition parties are running over the Saradha chit fund scam,” he said.
The results came as a rude reminder for both the CPI(M) and the Congress, who could only manage third and fourth-place finishes.