INDIA bloc allies face off in Bengal bypoll, say it won't affect national unity
The CPI(M) and Congress held a massive rally hitting out at both the TMC and the BJP, even as their central leaderships brainstormed with the TMC at the INDIA bloc meet
The INDIA Opposition bloc s likely to face a test of unity in the upcoming bypoll in north Bengal's Dhupguri assembly segment as two of its important constituents, Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Congress-CPI(M) alliance, fight it out to wrest the rural seat from the BJP.
The bypoll scheduled for 5 September is also a litmus test for all three political outfits, with the BJP hoping to check an erosion in its vote share and retain the seat, the TMC aiming to wrest the tribal-dominated assembly segment, and the CPI(M)-Congress alliance hoping to regain its traditional seat.
The bypoll was necessitated following the death of sitting BJP MLA Bishnu Pada Ray earlier this year.
Dotted with tea gardens, the seat in Jalpaiguri district is an agricultural settlement with a considerable population of the Rajbanshi and Matua communities, who voted for the saffron camp in the 2021 assembly polls. The population also includes around 15 per cent minority communities.
CPI(M) state secretary Mohammed Salim and Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury held a massive rally in Dhupguri, hitting out at both the TMC and the BJP, even as their central leaderships were brainstorming with the TMC and other anti-BJP parties at the third INDIA bloc meet in Mumbai to discuss election strategy ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Although the CPI(M), Congress and TMC have dubbed the bypoll as "local elections", with no bearings on Opposition unity efforts at the national level, the BJP has gone hammer and tongs at its rivals, pointing at the frictions within the INDIA camp.
"It is a local election and has nothing to do with the INDIA Opposition bloc. At the local level, we are fighting our own battles," Chowdhury said.
CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty said the fight in Bengal is against both the communal BJP and the misrule of the TMC, and the battle in Dhupguri, a seat which was a Left bastion from 1977-2011, is no exception. The CPI(M) has fielded Ishwar Chandra Roy, a teacher, from the seat.
The TMC, which has repeatedly accused the CPI(M) and Congress of helping the BJP in West Bengal, has refuted the saffron camp's allegations of disunity in the INDIA bloc.
"What is happening in Dhupguri has no bearing on the efforts of the INDIA opposition bloc at the national level. But it is true that in Bengal, at times, the CPI(M) and Congress have played a role in helping the BJP," TMC MP Santanu Sen said.
TMC has pulled all the stops to wrest back the seat, which it had won twice since 2011, and has promised to make Dhupguri a "sub-division by the end of this year".
TMC national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee has been leading the campaign in the area, and the party has fielded another teacher, Nirmal Chandra Roy, from this seat.
BJP state president Sukanta Majumdar said even before the Opposition bloc has taken off, cracks are visible in it. "Dhupguri is a classic example of how brittle this Opposition front is; even before it started, cracks are visible. Now, the people will decide accordingly," he said.
The BJP, which has been struggling to keep its flock together in West Bengal following defections by its MLAs and a rapidly declining vote share, is putting in every effort to retain the seat and buck the trend of losing all byelections since its defeat in the 2021 state assembly polls.
The BJP had won the seat in the last assembly polls, bagging 45.65 per cent of the votes, whereas the TMC had bagged 43.5 per cent.
The saffron camp this time has fielded Tapasi Roy, the widow of a CRPF jawan, who died fighting terrorists in Kashmir a few years ago.
The state's leader of the Opposition Suvendu Adhikari, who has been leading the BJP's campaign from the front, has appealed to people to vote against the "misrule and corruption" of TMC.
Political analyst Biswanath Chakraborty said the bypoll has interesting facets given how the Left-Congress, which has been regaining ground after its bypoll victory in Sagardighi earlier this year, manages to retain its upward rise, now that they are sharing a platform with the TMC at the national level.
"The Left-Congress were gaining as anti-TMC votes shifted from the BJP to them. Now, after the INDIA bloc meeting where it shared the dais with the TMC, it has to be seen how they manage those contradictions at the ground level," he said.