Mamata Banerjee logs record win in Bhawanipore bypoll; BJP loses on 2 more seats

Tibrewal ended the race with only 26,428 votes against 85,263 that Banerjee secured, marking a 71.9% share of the 1,18,580 votes (including 705 postal ballots) cast on September 30. At around 57%, this was the lowest voter turnout at Bhawanipore in 10 years. Tibrewal’s defeat triggered rumblings in the BJP with several leaders questioning the decision to field her.
West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC candidate from Bhawanipore contituency Mamata Banerjee after her victory in the by-polls at her Kalighat residence in Kolkata on Sunday. (PTI PHOTO.)
West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC candidate from Bhawanipore contituency Mamata Banerjee after her victory in the by-polls at her Kalighat residence in Kolkata on Sunday. (PTI PHOTO.)
Updated on Oct 04, 2021 12:07 AM IST
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Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee on Sunday broke her past records at the Bhawanipore assembly seat in south Kolkata by defeating her nearest rival, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Priyanka Tibrewal, by 58,835 votes in the keenly watched bypoll.

Also, in Murshidabad, the district with Bengal’s highest Muslim population of 66.28%, the TMC comfortably retained Samserganj and Jangipur where polls could not be held in April due to the death of two candidates. With these two seats, the TMC’ tally in the 294-member legislative assembly rose to 215.

Tibrewal ended the race with only 26,428 votes against 85,263 that Banerjee secured, marking a 71.9% share of the 1,18,580 votes (including 705 postal ballots) cast on September 30. At around 57%, this was the lowest voter turnout at Bhawanipore in 10 years.

The CPI (M), which has no legislator in Bengal for the first time since Independence, tasted defeat again with its candidate, Srijeeb Biswas, coming third with only 4,226 votes.

Tibrewal, who lost the March-April polls from Entally in central Kolkata by 58,257 votes, fell behind actor Rudranil Ghosh, who contested from Bhawanipore for the BJP on April 26 and bagged 44,786 votes. TMC’s Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay, who won the seat, stepped down so that Banerjee could contest again from her old constituency and continue as chief minister. When Chattopadhyay contested, 61.79% votes were cast and he defeated Ghosh by 28,719 votes.

Though TMC bagged 213 seats and stopped the BJP’s tally at 77, Banerjee was defeated at East Midnapore district’s Nandigram by her protégé-turned-adversary, BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari. The BJP is now left with 71 legislators. Four of the winners have joined the TMC while two did not take oath to retain their Lok Sabha seats.

The most significant aspect of Banerjee’s victory on Sunday was that TMC for the first time left the other parties behind in all the eight civic body wards in Bhawanipore where around 46% non-Bengali residents give the area a cosmopolitan character. The biggest chunk in this segment comprises Hindus and Sikhs. Bengali and Hindi-speaking Muslims make up for around 20% of the voters.

Banerjee mentioned this emphatically while addressing the media and party workers outside her home in the constituency’s Kalighat area.

“There are people from Punjab, Odisha, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. For the first time, we have won in all the wards because of their support. I remember falling behind in two wards in the 2016 polls. I am thankful to all these people. The nation was watching this election alongside Bengal,” said Banerjee, who often refers to Bhawanipore as ‘mini India.’

Since the TMC is attempting to set up a platform of opposition forces against the BJP prior to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, the chief minister drew a parallel between India and Bhawanipore during her campaign. “B for Bhawanipore, B for Bharat,” she had said several times.

The BJP state headquarters in central Kolkata wore a deserted look since morning when the counting of votes started.

“The outcome of the three assembly polls in West Bengal is not in line with our expectation but we accept it gracefully. After being demolished in Nandigram, Mamata Banerjee may have survived in Bhawanipore for now, but it has never happened that a losing candidate chose to thrust herself as the chief minister, in violation of all democratic norms and proprietary,” the BJP said in a statement.

Sunday’s victory somehow shadowed the chief minister’s defeat at Nandigram, said TMC leaders but Banerjee recounted the episode.

“There was a conspiracy against me. An injury was inflicted on my leg. We have challenged the Nandigram results in court. I don’t want to elaborate since the matter is subjudice,” she said.

In 2011, when Banerjee ended the Left Front’s 34-year-long regime and contested a bypoll to become chief minister as she was a Lok Sabha member, the TMC won by 54,213 votes although less than 45% Bhawanipore voters had turned up. In 2016, when the voter turnout was 66.83%, Banerjee defeated Deepa Dasmunsi of the Congress by 25,301 votes.

The Election Commission on Sunday sent a letter to the state government saying victory processions should not be held anywhere in view of the Covid-19 pandemic and to avoid post-poll violence. Banerjee, too, asked party workers to exercise restraint. “Help people affected by floods in the districts. That will be the real celebration,” she said.

At Samserganj, where 79.92% of the 2,37,750 voters had turned up, TMC’s Amirul Islam defeated his nearest Congress rival by 26,111 votes.

At Jangipur, where 77.63% of the 2,55,998 voters had cast their ballot, Jakir Hossain, the former deputy labour minister, defeated the BJP by 92,613 votes.

Tibrewal’s defeat triggered rumblings in the BJP with several leaders questioning the decision to field her.

“Our leaders need to understand that elections are fought on the ground and not from our offices which were found empty today. We could have done much better had we fielded an educated Bengali gentleman. Tibrewal could not even match the performance of Rudranil Ghosh,” said Joy Banerjee, a former actor and leader from Birbhum district.

“I gracefully accept defeat and congratulate Didi (Banerjee) but the TMC should not have ferried in fake voters. I caught some of them,” said Tibrewal who is one of the lawyers representing petitioners in the post-poll violence cases. “Our organisation was not so strong in Bhawanipore,” she added.

“The BJP always accepts the verdict of the people. The results, however, leave some questions because only 57% people had cast their votes. We are thankful to those who supported us,” said BJP state president Sukanta Majumdar.

While TMC workers celebrated near her residence, the chief minister announced the candidates for the October 30 polls and by-polls at four seats. TMC candidates who won the Khardah seat in North 24 Parganas district and Gosaba in South 24 Parganas died after the polls. The other two seats, Shantipur in Nadia and Dinhata in Cooch Behar, were vacated by the BJP because the respective winners, Jagannath Sarkar and Nisith Pramanik wanted to retain their Lok Sabha seats. Pramanik is now the Union minister of state for home affairs.

Banerjee announced that Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay will contest from Khardah.

Though heavy rainfall affected life in the state on September 30, at Bhawanipore, where the weather was fair till around 3 pm, the low turnout troubled the poll managers. However, some TMC leaders predicted that Banerjee would win by no less than 50,000 votes.

“The support from non-Bengali voters played a key role,” transport minister Firhad Hakim said on Sunday.

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Wednesday, December 01, 2021