Kolkata: Voting for by-elections in West Bengal for the vacant Kaliaganj in North Dinajpur, Kharagpur Sadar in West Midnapore and Karimpur assembly seats began on Monday morning.
The Kaliaganj seat fell vacant following the death of sitting Congress MLA Parmatha Nath Ray on May 31, while the Kharagpur Sadar and Karimpur seats fell vacant after sitting BJP MLA Dilip Ghosh and sitting TMC MLA Mahua Moitra won the parliamentary polls from Midnapore and Krishnnanagar Lok Sabha seats, respectively.
The Election Commission has decided to use EVMs and VVPATs in all polling stations. The counting of votes will take place on November 28.
The by-elections are crucial not just for the Congress and Left Front (since they have decided to go for a seat adjustment) but are also a litmus test for the TMC and BJP.
Once a Maoist stronghold, Jangalmahal’s substantial vote bank of the Left Front has pushed the saffron brigade ahead of the ruling TMC in the recent years. This helped the BJP to create history by securing 18 Lok Sabha seats (out of 42) in Bengal.
As per an Election Commission statistic, even though the BJP lost to TMC in 2014 Lok Sabha, the vote percentage of the saffron brigade has increased significantly to 20 per cent in the Jangalmahal districts. Similarly, in 2018 Panchayat elections, the BJP increased its vote share by 27 per cent in Jangalmahal districts as TMC suffered massive setback in Jhargram, Purulia and in Bankura.
But in the last few months, the TMC aggressively managed to regain its lost ground in ‘refugee’ and tribal dominated areas in Jangalmahal, while the BJP is struggling in Bengal with Muslim votes and centre’s decision to implement NRC. This is the reason why the BJP seems to be worried over Karimpur and Kaliaganj seats where Muslim and Dalit voters are the decisive factor. A majority of voters in these two seats are refugees and their descendants who fled to India during Partition.
On the other hand, in Kharagpur Sadar seat, state BJP president Dilip Ghosh seems to be on the back foot after a senior party leader Pradip Kumar Patnaik revolted against Prem Chandra Jha (BJP candidate) and is contesting the bypolls under the banner of ‘BJP Bachao Party (BBP)’ on ‘Diamond’ symbol.
Patnaik was later expelled from the BJP for contesting against a BJP candidate.
Kharagpur Sadar is a strong bastion of the BJP, but the rift within the party is likely to lead to a division of votes.
Nearly 7.5 lakh voters will decide the political fate of 18 candidates in three constituencies. Twenty Companies of Central forces, who will be assisted by the state police, have been deployed to ensure free and fair polling.