TMC predicts big victory for Mamata Banerjee despite lower voter turnout
Three days after low turnout of voters troubled election managers of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at south Kolkata’s Bhabanipur, leaders of the ruling party said hours before counting of votes on Sunday that Mamata Banerjee will win the bypoll by a higher margin than Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay, who won the seat in the March-April assembly elections.
Only 57.09 % of Bhabanipur’s 2,06,389 voters turned up during the September 30 bypoll, whereas on April 26, when Chattopadhyay contested, the figure stood at 61.79 %. He won by a margin of 28,719 votes. TMC leaders claimed on Saturday night that the chief minister was going to win by more than 50,000 votes.
Though TMC bagged 213 of Bengal’s 294 seats and stopped the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) tally at 77, Banerjee was defeated at East Midnapore district’s Nandigram by her protégé-turned-adversary, BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari.
As the setback left TMC leaders stunned, Chattopadhyay vacated the Bhabanipur seat so that Banerjee could contest again from her old constituency and continue as chief minister.
The bypoll was held alongside elections in Murshidabad district’s Samserganj and Jangipur, where polls could not be held in April due to the death of two candidates.
Despite intermittent rain in Murshidabad - the district with Bengal’s highest Muslim population of 66.28% - the final turnout at Samserganj was 79.92 % while in Jangipur, the figure touched 77.63 %.
In sharp contrast, at Bhabanipur, where the weather was clear till around 3 pm, only 57.09 % voters reached polling booths despite the hype and intense campaigning by both sides.
In the April 26 polls, the BJP came second, securing 35.16 % votes. Its candidate, actor Rudranil Ghosh, who made his debut in electoral politics, was defeated by 28,719 votes.
“Mamata Banerjee will win by a margin of anything between 50,000 to 75,000 votes,” transport minister Firhad Hakim, who took the lead in campaigning for the chief minister, said on Saturday night.
TMC leaders claimed before the polls that Banerjee would win by at least 0.1 million votes.
“We will definitely do well. Our candidate Priyanka Tibrewal worked hard during the campaign,” said BJP state president Sukanta Majumdar.
Bhabanipur’s cosmopolitan character has always posed a challenge for election managers.
The constituency has 2,06,389 voters. According to TMC and BJP leaders, more than 20% residents are Muslims while Sikhs and non-Bengali Hindus comprise around 34% of the local population. The Congress did not contest the seat this year as its electoral ally, the CPI(M), fielded Srijeeb Biswas.
“Whenever turnout was high in the past, the BJP did well in Bhabanipur. The low turnout on September 30 should worry the TMC more,” said Shishir Bajoria, a member of the BJP’s election committee.
Even the chief minister apprehended a low turnout while addressing her first campaign meeting on September 22 as the weather office had predicted the arrival of Cyclone Gulab which later moved towards southern India.
“Cast your vote even if it rains. I will suffer if I don’t get even one vote. Don’t be complacent and assume that my victory is ensured. If I do not win, someone else (from the TMC) will become chief minister since we are in the majority,” Banerjee said at the meeting in Ekbalpore, an area with a sizeable Muslim population.
Though there was no violence during the bypoll, the TMC was repeatedly accused by the BJP of bringing in fake voters at some booths. The Election Commission received around 60 allegations but all were found to be baseless, officials said.
Tibrewal, a lawyer who lost the March-April polls from Entally in central Kolkata, wrote a letter to the Calcutta high court’s acting chief justice Rajesh Bindal on Saturday, requesting him to direct law enforcement agencies to ensure that there is no violence after the election results are declared.
Tibrewal is representing many of the petitioners who moved the high court alleging post-poll violence that the Central Bureau of Investigation is now probing on the court’s order.
With 2,55,998 voters, Jangipur did not witness an election on April 26 as Pradip Kumar Nandi, the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) candidate, died of Covid-19. Jakir Hossain, the former deputy labour minister who bagged the seat in 2016, contested against the BJP’s Sujit Das and the RSP’s Jane Alam Mian. The Congress left the seat for the Left parties as part of the poll alliance.
“We will surely win,” Hossain said after polling was over.
Samserganj, which has 2,37,750 voters, could not go to the polls with the rest of the state earlier this year because Rezaul Haque, the Congress candidate, died of Covid-19 in early April. TMC fielded Amirul Islam who won the seat in 2016.
The local Congress unit ignored the alliance by fielding Jaidur Rahaman, brother of the TMC’s Jangipur Lok Sabha MP Khalilur Rahaman, against the CPI(M)’s Md Modassar Hossain. The BJP fielded Milan Ghosh, a debutant. The TMC is confident of winning the Murshidabad seats