Bengal bypoll: Sabang election, crucial for BJP leader Mukul Roy, sees high turnout

The assembly bypoll in West Bengal’s Sabang constituency are seen as crucial for Mukul Roy, who switched to the BJP from the Trinamool Congress.

india Updated: Dec 21, 2017 20:42 IST
Koushik Dutta
Koushik Dutta
Hindustan Times, Midnapore
West Bengal bye-election,West Bengal bypoll,Sabang
The BJP is banking heavily on Mukul Roy to build the party’s grassroots-level organisation in Bengal.(PTI)

Polling was largely peaceful on Thursday in the Sabang assembly bypoll in West Bengal where 83% turnout was recorded till 5pm. The Sabang bypolls are seen as crucial for Mukul Roy, who switched to the BJP from the Trinamool Congress in November.

A total of 2.45 lakh voters were expected to vote in 306 booths. VVPATs were used in every polling station.

Counting will take place on December 24. In the 2016 assembly poll, the constituency witnessed 89.1% turnout.

The main contenders this time are Gita Bhunia from the ruling Trinamool Congress and Antara Bhattacharya of the BJP.

“In every polling station there were VVPAT,” said Sudip Sarkar, the sub divisional officer of Kharagpur.

The BJP is banking heavily on Mukul Roy, the 63-year-old former railway minister to build the party’s grassroots-level organisation that is lacking in Bengal.

For the BJP, Bengal is a focus state for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, where the party wants to secure 22 of the 44 seats. The party expects Roy to help put in place the machinery by the 2018 rural polls that will be a rehearsal for the Lok Sabha elections.

The Trinamool nominated Gita Bhunia, the wife of Manas Bhunia, who won the seat in 2016 for the seventh time by almost 56,000 votes.

In 2016, Manas Bhunia contested as the candidate for the Congress-Left alliance. But later switched to Trinamool. The seat fell vacant when the party nominated Bhunia to the Rajya Sabha.

The BJP candidate, Antara Bhattacharya, was earlier with the CPI(M) and served as the sabhadhipati of the West Midnapore Zilla Parishad from 2008 to 2013

“People of the area have immense support for Mamata Banerjee. There is no doubt that our candidate will win by a huge margin. It may be higher than mine,” said Manas Bhunia.

Antara Bhattacharya, meanwhile, alleged strong arm tactics by Trinamool supporters.

“If they are confident about winning, why are ruling party workers resorting to violence? They prevented our agents from entering polling stations in several booths, and also abducted one of our leaders from Jalchak,” she alleged.

The BJP also alleged that their polling agents were forced to move out from several polling stations in Balpai and Bhemua.

Manas Bhunia called it a “baseless allegation” and said, “Why should we create trouble when we are certain of a big victory?”

Chandan Guchait, CPI(M) leader in Sabang, said, “Our polling agent was beaten up in booth number 160. Three workers were also thrashed.”

Tension was reported from Purbobandh booth in Bishnupur following a clash between Trinamool Congress and CPI(M) supporters. Security forces resorted to lathi charge and also fired in the air.

However, the district administration said they did not receive any complaint about unfair tactics.

Both the ruling Trinamool Congress and the BJP deployed their popular leaders for the bypoll.

While Union minister Babul Supriyo, state president Dilip Ghosh and Roy himself campaigned for the BJP, Trinamool leaders such as MP and Mamata Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek, education minister Partha Chatterjee, transport minister Suvendu Adhikari, law minister Chandrima Bhattacharya, party general secretary Subrata Bakshi held public meetings in the area.

In the 2016 elections, the BJP got only 2.60 % of the votes -- a marginal improvement on the miniscule 1.3% it secured in 2011.

First Published: Dec 21, 2017 20:41 IST