Sagardighi: Congress Defeated Trinamool In A Bypoll In Bengal, But There’s Nothing To Be Euphoric Over The Victory
The jubilation in the Congress-Left camps and the projection that the results of Sagardighi can be replicated in other parts of the state is grossly misplaced.
The Congress opened its account in the 294-member West Bengal Assembly by winning a bypoll in the Sagardighi seat that falls within the Muslim-majority Murshidabad district of the state.
The party that had drawn a blank in the 2021 Assembly elections in the state, was euphoric over this victory.
State Congress president Adhir Chowdhury, who is also the leader of the party in the Lok Sabha, termed the win as the “beginning of the end of Trinamool Congress in Bengal”.
However, the jubilation in the Congress, as well as the Left, camps is rather misplaced. The results of the Sagardighi bypolls do not indicate a declining support for the Trinamool in the state.
The reasons for that include:
The Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which had a duopoly over this seat for six decades till 2011, entered into an alliance this time. The CPI(M) campaigned actively for the Congress candidate Bayron Biswas.
The votes of CPI(M) supporters were effectively transferred to the Congress candidate. Ground-level reports suggest that many BJP supporters also voted for Biswas.
The Trinamool’s Debashish Bandopadhyay, thus faced a combined opposition and was defeated by nearly 23,000 votes. The Trinamool’s vote share of 50.95 per cent in 2021 declined precipitously to 34.94 per cent.
The Congress-Left alliance worked in Sagardighi because a Congress candidate was fielded from the constituency.
Past experience in Bengal, and in the just-concluded elections in Tripura, shows that while Left votes get transferred to the Congress, it is not a two-way street and Congress supporters seldom vote for Left candidates.
Thus, had a CPI(M) candidate backed by the Congress been fielded, a similar victory would have eluded the combine.
Also, many Bharatiya Janata Party supporters at Sagardighi — and they form a sizable chunk of the electorate; the party’s vote share in 2021 was 24.08 per cent — voted tactically for the Congress candidate.
The reason being that the BJP candidate, Dilip Saha, stood little chance of winning against the combined Congress-Left candidate.
BJP supporters also felt that ensuring the victory of the Congress candidate was important in order to send a strong message to the Trinamool which has become synonymous with largescale corruption and hooliganism.
But this won’t happen every time, and definitely not when the BJP is a contender for power. BJP votes will not get transferred to the Congress or the CPI(M) then.
The Congress still has a support base in Murshidabad and Malda districts, but not in other parts of the state.
Congress supporters felt enthused by the bright prospects of their candidate (Bayron Biswas) this time since Biswas had the complete backing of the Left as well.
And so Congress supporters voted for Biswas in large numbers
The Congress could leverage its organisational strength in Murshidabad and drum up support in favour of its candidate. It could ensure a high turnout of its supporters on the day of polling.
The Congress also benefited from the organisational muscle of the CP(M).
However, the Congress is organisationally weak in other parts of the state and in most areas, it has no organisation, not even a small office. This weakness will, naturally, affect its performance in elections outside Murshidabad and Malda.
Unlike earlier elections, the Trinamool could not manipulate elections at Sagardighi because the Election Commission could monitor the poll process strictly since elections were being held in just one constituency.
Such close monitoring is not possible in statewide polls in 294 constituencies, and that is when the Trinamool deploys its muscle-power.
There is no reason to believe, despite all measures taken by the Election Commission, that elections in Bengal in 2026 will be completely free and fair like the bypoll at Sagardighi.
The Trinamool’s Subrata Saha who wrested the Sagardighi seat from the CPI(M) in the 2011 Assembly elections and retained it in 2016 and 2021, was a Congress leader before joining the Trinamool before the 2011 polls. He was popular and involved in a number of social activities.
The wave of support for Mamata Banerjee in Bengal in 2011 ensured the victory of Saha in the elections that year. And it was easy for him to retain the seat.
Saha, who was made a junior minister, passed away in December last year and his death necessitated the bypoll.
But the Trinamool candidate this time — Debashish Bandopadhyay — is nowhere as popular as Saha was.
Bandopadhyay could not generate and ride any sympathy wave generated by Saha’s sudden death since the Congress candidate — Bayron Biswas — is perceived to have been closer to Saha than Bandopadhyay.
A lot is being made of the fact that the results of the bypolls indicate an erosion of Trinamool’s Muslim vote base.
Muslims form more than 65 per cent of the population of Sagardighi, and so the Congress win there is being interpreted as Muslims moving away from the Trinamool to the Left-Congress combine.
This assumption is flawed. Muslims in Murshidabad and Malda, where they are in a majority, have traditionally been Congress and Left supporters.
The Trinamool did make strong inroads into these two districts since 2011, but that was because many Congress leaders defected to the Trinamool and the Left became organisationally weak in the two districts.
This time, with the Congress and Left forming an alliance, the two parties managed to revive their dormant support bases in Sagardighi.
But this cannot be extrapolated in the rest of the state.
Muslims in the rest of Bengal remain firmly behind the Trinamool and there is no reason to believe they are slowly withdrawing support to Mamata Banerjee in favour of the Congress or the Left.
Considering all these factors, it appears that the jubilation in the Congress-Left camps and the projection that the results of Sagardighi can be replicated in other parts of the state is grossly misplaced.
The Left and the Congress were relegated to third and fourth positions in the 2021 Assembly polls with vote shares of 4.73 per cent and 2.93 per cent respectively.
There is no reason to believe that Bengal’s electorate have developed a newfound love for the Congress or Left within two years of casting the two parties away.
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