Trinamul’s Biplab Ojha during a campaign in Nalhati
Nalhati, Feb. 20: Chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s popularity faces a litmus test in the Nalhati bypoll on February 23 with the Forward Bloc and the Congress putting up a stiff challenge for Trinamul.
The Nalhati seat fell vacant after the Congress’s Abhijit Mukherjee resigned as MLA on winning the Jangipur Lok Sabha constituency.
The Congress and Trinamul are leaving no stone unturned to grab the majority of the anti-Left votes while the Forward Bloc, which had held the seat for 42 years before Mukherjee won in 2011, is desperate to retain its support base.
The vote-sharing pattern in Nalhati in the last two elections has made the battle this year more interesting.
In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, Trinamul candidate Satabdi Roy had bagged about 12,000 votes more than her nearest rival from the CPM in the Birbhum constituency, of which Nalhati is a part. In the 2011 Assembly polls, Mukherjee won in Nalhati by around 15,000 votes.
But the Left Front managed to keep the percentage of its voters almost intact after 2009, despite the wave of “paribartan”.
In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the CPM candidate secured 54,503 votes (40 per cent of the total 1,36,123 votes polled) and in the 2011 Assembly polls, the Forward Bloc candidate got 60,887 votes (39.2 per cent of the 1,55,189 votes polled).
The Trinamul-Congress combine won in Nalhati because the alliance worked well in the Assembly seat that was with the Forward Bloc for .
But the Congress and Trinamul are now fighting to eat into each other’s support base.
The Trinamul’s key problem in Nalhati is that it does not have a strong base. The ruling party’s poll machinery has been brought from Bolpur, 70km away.
A section of local Trinamul leaders has stayed away from the campaign as they are opposed to the selection of Biplab Ojha as the candidate. This has prompted the Trinamul’s top leadership in Birbhum, including district president Anubrata Mondal, to camp in Nalhati.
This apart, the Trinamul faces trouble in countering the Opposition’s claim that the ruling party was forced to field Ojha because nobody wanted to contest as its candidate. Ojha lost both the civic seats he contested last year.
The ruling party is trying to project “development work” initiated by the Mamata Banerjee government. It is also banking on Mamata’s popularity.
The Congress — which has a steady support base as it controls seven of the 12 panchayats — is facing questions like why Mukherjee left the Nalhati seat without completing much of the development work he had promised. A few veteran Congress leaders such as Mohammad Asaduzzaman have joined Trinamul.
The Congress has fielded Abdur Rahaman — a leader from Muraroi in Nalhati — to counter the problems. “Rahaman is a popular leader. He won’t resign midway if he wins,” a district Congress leader said.
The most significant advantage for the Forward Bloc this time is that local CPM leaders are working hard to wrest the seat. “We are not depending on the splitting of votes of Trinamul and the Congress. We are trying to reach out to each voter and trying to make them feel that we are with them,” said Dipak Chatterjee, the Bloc candidate.
Residents — who are struggling with the pathetic condition of roads, lack of safe drinking water and health care facilities — do not appear to be interested in the closely fought battle. “It is because we know that the MLA might change but our struggle won’t,” said Muhammad Iqbal, a tailor.
The Nalhati Congress has complained to the returning officer and the bypoll observer that Trinamul violated a high court order by using loudspeakers in a meeting at a time board exams are being held in several madarsas in the area.
Trinamul leader Mukul Roy, who was at the meeting today with minister Firhad Hakim, said his party didn’t violate any order.