Ahead of the Bhawanipur by-poll scheduled to be held on September 30, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has drifted from her usual appeasement style of politics to woo the minorities and is now focused on the Hindu vote bank. In a related development, the Mamata administration on Tuesday announced that a grant of Rs 50,000 will be provided to Durga Puja committees across the state.
Usually, Mamata would have announced and taken credit for the development but since the Election Commission’s model code of conduct is in place, the announcement was made by her Chief Secretary HK Dwivedi.
In a carefully worded address, Mamata refrained from taking the name of the scheme and instead remarked, “The Chief Secretary has told you everything. Because the model code of conduct is in place, he made the government announcement as is the practice,”
It violates the model code of conduct: BJP
However, BJP, the principal opposition party in the state stated that Chief Secretary making the announcement didn’t mean the poll code was not violated. BJP State Vice-President Pratap Banerjee said, “The politics of dole that the Trinamool does…that’s what has been done. It’s a violation of the model code. We want the CEO to take appropriate steps. We will go to the EC office tomorrow,”
Bhawanipur and the non-Bengali Hindu votebank
Mamata and TMC looking to woo the Hindus stem from the reason that Bhawanipur has over 65 per cent non-Bengali Hindu population. And over the years, Mamata’s vote share has decreased in the constituency. The majority of the Hindu population in Bhawanipur comes from the Gujarati and Marwari community, who do not appear to perceive her as their representative.
In 2011, Mamata contested the bypoll from Bhawanipur as the newly crowned CM that defeated the Left government and thus secured 78 per cent votes. She defeated Nandini Mukherjee of CPM by a huge margin of 54,000 votes.
However, after the rise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014 at the centre and in turn states across the country, winds of change started blowing in Bengal as well. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, BJP improved its position in the Bhawanipur constituency. The saffron party had only received 5078 votes in the 2011 assembly elections, but it made a quantum leap and secured more than 47,000 votes amid the slogan ‘Abki Baar Modi Sarkar’.
Come 2016 Assembly elections, Mamata Banerjee once again geared up to fight from Bhawanipur against Congress’ Dipa Dasmunshi and BJP’s Chandra Kumar Bose – a relative of Subhash Chandra Bose. Mamata did manage to hold her fort but the margin of her victory was significantly reduced. While she won by a margin of 54,000 votes in 2011, the deficit had come down to 25,000. Meanwhile, BJP secured 26,299 votes.
Mamata needs to win the bypoll for survival
To stay Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee has to contest the by-poll and most importantly, win it and become a member of the state legislative assembly. Article 164 of the constitution says a minister who is not an MLA within six months has to resign.
BJP has the golden chance to eject Mamata out of state politics. If she loses the election again, TMC, a one-woman party, by most estimates would come down on its knees. Barring her nephew Abhishek Banerjee, Mamata doesn’t trust any other leader to take the centre stage.
Moreover, the majority of tall leaders from TMC have made their way through the Rajya Sabha, meaning they do not have the required pull to gravitate voters and the general public their way, at least not in the way Mamata has.
BJP need to go into complete election mode
With one seat, BJP can flip the fortunes of the state and if the party coalesces its famed electoral machinery, it can certainly dismantle the hopes and ambitions of Mamata. Star campaigners of BJP in Yogi Adityanath, Rajnath Singh, Nirmala Sitharaman and others can be dispatched to Bhawanipur for the canvassing process to sway the voters.
In the assembly elections, BJP was too focused on Nandigram and as a result, other seats suffered. However, grabbing 80-odd seats was still a monumental achievement which showed that BJP was increasing its footprint across the state rapidly. Winning Bhawanipur might just make do for the heartbreak of not achieving the majority in the state.
The voters of Bhawanipur have the wild card in their hands to extoll revenge from Mamata who left them to parachute at Nandigram without any explanation. Mamata’s fortunes hang by the barest of threads and with BJP on the ascendency, it is going to be a close contest.