Is the Mamata magic fading in Bengal in the space of mere two years? The answer to this rather rhetorical question would be available once more than 14 lakh voters go to the polls on Sunday morning. The twin factors of a triangular contest and the Ponzi fund meltdown effect would put the magic to test more than anything else in Kolkata's twin city.
The Howrah polls are also crucial because of its timing. It comes exactly a month before the panchayat polls that are important, as it might become an indicator for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
In the 2009 Howrah Lok Sabha polls, Trinamool candidate Ambica Banerjee won by a margin of around 30,000 votes. However, in the 2011 assembly elections, the Trinamool had a comfortable lead of around 1.8 lakh in the seven assembly constituencies under Howrah Lok Sabha seat. Not even the most fanatic Trinamool supporter expects the 1.8 lakh margin to be repeated.
"The Howrah results would mark a paradigm shift in state politics. We have campaigned extensively to expose the tacit understanding between the Trinamool and BJP. We are hopeful of a minority backlash in our favour," CPI(M) state committee member Mohammad Selim told HT.
"Howrah would be the laboratory where we can test our individual strengths. We are hopeful of increasing our vote percentage compared to 16% in 2004," state Congress president Pradip Bhattacharya said.
Mamata had reasons to be nervous as the opposition threw in their entire might. To campaign for their candidate Sridip Bhattacharya, former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, state party secretary Biman Bose and leader of the opposition Suryakanta Mishra addressed public meetings and rallies.
For the Congress it has to settle a few scores. The party had constantly complained of shabby treatment from the Trinamool leader and her lieutenants. This is another opportunity to for the Congress to demonstrate that without an alliance, Trinamool loses its popularity at the hustings.
In the assembly bypolls of Rejinagar, Nalhati and Englishbazar, Congress had demonstrated to the ruling party that a triangular contest could actually become an Achilles heel for Mamata Banerjee. While the Trinamool won the Englishbazar seat, it stood third in the other two.
For the Congress union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh and union minister of state for urban development Deepa Dasmunshi campaigned for candidate Sanatan Mukherjee. Howrah has had a soft corner for Congress candidates with the party having won five Lok Sabha polls, out which Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi won twice.
Trinamool leaders however, are maintaining a brave face. "Going by the response I received from people during my public programmes, I think I am leading. The chief minister came to Howrah four times for me," Trinamool candidate Prasun Banerjee said.
This time however the CPI(M) has sniffed an opportunity to exploit the Trinamool-Congress rift. And for the Congress, it is a matter of showcasing its existence in south Bengal after the unpalatable break-up with Trinamool.
With BJP withdrawing its candidate at the last moment, speculation has been rife about a possible understanding between the Trinamool and BJP and the opposition is leaving no stone unturned to play up the fear-psychosis in the minds of minorities, who constitute around 20% of the population in the constituency.
Minorities are concentrated mostly in Pilkhana, Ghusuri, Tikiapara and Shibpur and have significant numerical strength in Bally and Panchla assembly constituencies that fall under Howrah Lok Sabha seat. In Panchla, minorities constitute about 40% of the population. Perhaps this was the reason why Mamata flagged off her Thursday road show from minority dominated Pilkhana to Dumurjola.
With results to be declared on June 5, the next four days would give some anxious moments to Trinamool, CPI(M) and Congress alike.
Bypoll on six seats in Gujarat
Voting will be held for the bypolls in two parliamentary and four assembly seats in Gujarat on Sunday. Altogether, 33 candidates are in the fray for six seats — Porbandar and Banaskantha parliamentary seats and Limbadi, Morvahadaf, Dhoraji and Jetpur assembly seats.
The polls are crucial for the BJP, since all six seats are held by the opposition Congress.
The candidates include Vithal Radadia, controversial former Congress MP.