Congress candidate Bairon Biswas, backed by the Left, won the Sagardighi Assembly bypoll by a margin of 22,986 votes on Thursday, defeating Trinamul’s Debasish Banerjee in a constituency that has around 65 per cent minority population and whose support contributed to the ruling party’s stellar performance in the 2021 Assembly elections.
While Biswas’ victory also ensures Congress representation in the Bengal Assembly, as the party had failed to win any seat in the 2021 polls, the bypoll result has also relegated the BJP to a distant third. Both state Congress chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and CPM’s state secretary Md Salim said the win reaffirmed their claims that it was possible to defeat the Trinamul and the BJP if political forces opposed to them come together.
The Sagardighi bypoll was necessitated by the death of the sitting Trinamul MLA Subrata Saha, who had won the seat by defeating his BJP rival by 50,206 votes in 2021. The win in Sagardighi has given the two political camps a much-needed boost ahead of the crucial panchayat polls.
“People have supported us, they have blessed us. Left and Congress workers have worked shoulder to shoulder to make this win happen. This is the people’s mandate against corruption, theft, and misgovernance,” Chowdhury said. He and Salim hinted that their coordinated fight will continue during the ensuing rural and Lok Sabha polls. “In the future of Bengal’s politics, the result of Sagardighi will have long-term effects,” Salim said.
For the Trinamul, the bypoll result coming before the panchayat polls is reason enough to worry as minorities still form the core support base of the party. Chowdhury claimed that Sagardighi’s outcome proved the disenchantment of Muslims with Mamata and that she was not invincible.
“Minorities are not Mamata Banerjee’s property. They have been betrayed. The Muslims of India and Bengal will never accept the understanding between Modi and Didi (Mamata). Sagardighi’s result is proof that Muslims are disenchanted with Mamata,” Chowdhury said at Sagardighi.
Mamata, however, brushed aside the claims of the CPM and the Congress that the Sagardighi poll result will be a game-changer in Bengal. Speaking to reporters in Nabanna on Thursday, Mamata hit out at the CPM-Congress and said Biswas rode on BJP votes to win the by-poll. Mamata also accused the Left-Congress combine of playing the communal card.
“We lost Sagardighi by-election, I don’t blame anyone... there is an immoral alliance...we strongly condemn (it). If you count the BJP vote you will see, their vote percentage was about 22 per cent (in 2021), this time they transferred their vote to the Congress party, they have got about 13%,” Mamata said.
She also said Sagardighi’s results proved that the Congress or the Left could not be trusted to fight the BJP because of the “immoral alliance” between the three. Reacting to Chowdhury’s claims that minorities were turning away from Trinamul, Mamata said: “I don’t think that I should comment on such statements. You can ask minorities about this. They (Congress-Left) received votes in just one election. I told you that the BJP transferred their votes to Congress.”
Even though Mamata blamed an orchestrated transfer of BJP’s votes to the Congress, figures received from the website of the Election Commission of India indicate that Trinamul has lost 30,508 votes. Its candidate Banerjee received 64,681 votes as compared to 95,189 received by Subrata Saha in 2021.
However, BJP’s Dilip Saha also received 19,618 votes less than what the party bagged in 2021. For the Left-Congress combine, Biswas bagged 51,323 more votes than what the alliance got in 2021. Sources said apart from Biswas’ popularity, there has been a big erosion in Muslims’ support for Trinamul in Sagardighi.
According to Trinamul leader Habibur Reza, the choice of Banerjee as the candidate did not go down well with voters. Reza said that veteran Trinamul leader Samsul Hoda would have been a better choice for the bypoll. In 2016, Hoda contested from Sagardighi as an Independent and bagged more than 31,000 votes.
Bengal’s ruling party insiders admitted in private the discontent existing among the people against a section of local Trinamul leaders. The anger is so strong that the villagers of Patkeldanga, part of the Sagardighi Assembly seat, chased away two Trinamul MLAs from neighbouring constituencies when they tried to enter the village after the deadline for campaigning was over on February 25.
Fearing that outsiders might enter Sagardighi to disrupt the polls, villagers took turns guarding the banks along the Bhagirathi river all night before polling day. “People didn’t just vote. They also guarded the river banks and prevented criminals from entering. (Around) 40 to 42 ministers and (ruling party) MLAs were assigned duties in separate areas (of Sagardighi). This means that they were asked to bring in criminals from their respective constituencies. But people didn’t even let the hooligans of Trinamul flutter their wings,” Salim told the media.
In the 2021 Assembly polls, apart from the minorities, women voters voted largely in Mamata’s favour in Sagardighi. “But this time, it looks like we have failed to secure the support of women as well,” a local Trinamul leader said.
Trying to hide their slide to third place, BJP leader Samik Bhattacharya said: “People have voted for the Congress. We congratulate them. For us, the plus has been that we could deploy agents in booths where we did not manage to do in the past.”