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Bengal bypolls: Voting underway amid tight security

The bypolls are crucial because they will provide the last indication of the popularity of the parties before the rural elections in Bengal are held in May-June.

kolkata Updated: Jan 29, 2018 13:46 IST
Sumanta Ray Chaudhuri
Sumanta Ray Chaudhuri
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
Bypolls,West Bengal,Uluberia Lok Sabha seat
Byelections are being held for the Uluberia Lok Sabha and Noapara Assembly constituencies of West Bengal.(AFP)

Voting has been peaceful so far on Monday in the Uluberia Lok Sabha and Noapara Assembly constituencies of West Bengal.

As voters queued up at polling stations, the point of speculation was about which party would finish second – the BJP or the CPI (M)?

The bypolls are crucial as they would provide the last indication of the popularity of the parties before the rural polls in Bengal which are expected in May-June.

BJP president Amit Shah wants to secure at least half of the 44 Lok Sabha seats in Bengal in the 2019 general elections and the rural elections will be a rehearsal for meeting that target.

Till 10 AM on Monday, the polling process was peaceful but slow.

Thirty companies of central forces have been deployed in Uluberia, five in Noapara. Voter-verified paper audit trail or VVPAT machines are being used in all booths of Uluberia. A VVPAT machine allows a voter to verify that his or her vote has been cast as intended.

Former Trinamool leader Mukul Roy who joined the BJP last year, alleged strong arm tactics by the ruling party supporters in Noapara in North Parganas district. Expectedly, the Trinamool Congress has dismissed the allegations.

“I am at my residence and my role is limited to finding out how the polls are progressing. But these allegations are predictable as BJP knows the fight is for the second position,” said Arjun Singh, Trinamool MLA of adjacent constituency Bhatpara.

The bypoll for Noapara assembly constituency in North 24 Parganas district is considered as a prestige fight between former TMC leader Roy and Singh.

Uluberia Lok Sabha constituency has about 34% Muslim voters. The polls were necessitated by the sudden death of Trinamool MP, Sultan Ahmed on September 4, 2017.

The ruling party has fielded Ahmed’s wife, Sajda Ahmed. Though Trinamool, CPI (M) and Congress have fielded Muslim candidates, BJP nominated a Hindu.

Hannan Mollah of CPI (M) won the Uluberia seat eight times before he was defeated by Trinamool Congress’ Sultan Ahmed by about 88,000 votes in 2009. In 2014, Ahmed increased his winning margin to around 2 lakh votes, grabbing 48% of the votes. CPI (M) won 31% and BJP 12%.

Noapara was one of the constituencies where the Trinamool lost in the 2016 assembly polls. Madhusudan Ghose of Congress-Left alliance won by a margin of about 1,000 votes. While Ghose got 43% of the votes, Trinamool’s Manju Basu won 42%. BJP could manage 13%.

Mukul Roy, who was inducted into BJP with the hope of improving its organisation in the state, got a blow when the BJP candidate came third in the assembly bypoll for Sabang constituency in West Midnapore district with just 15% votes in December 2017. Trinamool Congress candidate Geeta Rani Bhunia won with 51% of the votes while CPI (M)’s Rita Jana came second with 20%.

First Published: Jan 29, 2018 11:51 IST