Kolkata: In the upcoming bypolls to the three West Bengal Assembly seats on November 25, the ruling Trinamool Congress has come out with constituency-specific manifestos to highlight local issues and the Mamata Banerjee government’s development efforts, while the BJP is campaigning big on the proposed Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) and downplaying the NRC.
The newly stitched Congress-Left Front alliance is harping on the “failures” of the central and state governments, the economic crisis and the price rise of essentials.
This by-elections will be the first trial of strength for the political rivals after the April-May Lok Sabha polls.
In a shift of strategy said to have been influenced by its poll strategist, Prashant Kishor, the Trinamool has for the first time published manifesto for bypoll, that too for each of the three constituencies — Kharagpur Sadar, Kaliaganj and Karimpur.
According to the Trinamool leaders, the party was keen to foil any plans on the part of the BJP to ensure voting on issues like the Ram Temple, abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir and the proposed CAB by polarising the electorate on the communal lines.
However, in every public meeting, the Trinamool leaders are raising the National Register of Citizens (NRC) issue and pointing out that around 12-13 lakh of the 19 lakh people excluded from the NRC in Assam are Hindus.
But, the main campaign plank has been the development for the TMC. “Our leader Mamata Banerjee has ensured massive development across the state. She has conceived and implemented a record number of government schemes and welfare projects benefiting almost every section of the society. Naturally, we are laying emphasis on this aspect,” said Trinamool Rajya Sabha member Manas Bhunia.
As part of its focus on constituency-based issues, in Kharagpur Sadar, the Trinamool is focusing on the center’s bid to privatize a part of the Railways.
“BJP’s real face has been exposed, particularly in Kharagpur. The same people who had voted for the BJP in the recent polls, are now totally cut up with it. People are afraid of losing their jobs,” Bhunia told IANS.
State BJP General Secretary Sayantan Basu said CAB is obviously an issue.
“We want to pass it in Parliament, and give citizenship rights to all Hindus. We will also tell people how Trinamool is opposed to the CAB,” Basu told IANS.
“But the main issue in West Bengal is Trinamool’s corruption, atrocities, lack of democracy… lack of jobs and business and poor law and order,” he said.
Asked whether the NRC is also an issue in the by-election, Basu said: “No, we are highlighting the CAB”.
The BJP had been very bullish on the NRC during the Lok Sabha poll campaign.
However, in the backdrop of the recent panic — as also a number of deaths due to suicide or depression — seen across the state amid fears that people may be rendered homeless, the BJP state leadership has deliberately decided to downplay the matter and focus instead on the CAB to assure its core Hindu voters that they have nothing to fear.
As for the Ayodhya issue, which has grabbed international headlines after the Supreme Court verdict, Basu said his party was not raising the matter during the campaign.
“We aren’t raising Ram temple on our own, but if our opponents target us on this issue, we have no problem in explaining our viewpoint to the people”.
Veteran state Congress leader and Rajya Sabha member Pradip Bhattacharya spoke about the “comprehensive failure” of the state and central governments.
Bhattacharya told IANS: “The Congress-Left Front alliance is underlining issues like the destruction of the democratic system and institutions, and massive price increase of food items like rice, pulses, and onions.
He said the economic crisis in the country, with banks being in an “unstable state”, are also major issues.
As regards NRC, Bhattacharya said: “We are opposing it A to Z.”.
The Trinamool lost much ground to the BJP in the April-May Lok Sabha polls, where the saffron party came up with its best performance in the state grabbing 18 seats — up from two it had won in 2014. The Trinamool, which had bagged 34 seats in 2014, had to be satisfied with 22 in 2019 and the Congress won the remaining two of the total 42 seats in Bengal.
The Congress is contesting Kharagarpur Sadar and Kaliaganj, with the Left in the fray in Karimpur.
During the general elections, the BJP led in the Assembly segments of Kharagpur Sadar and Kaliaganj, while the Trinamool was ahead in Karimpur.
The polls at Kharagpur Sadar and Karimpur were necessitated after the MLAs from the respective seats won the Lok Sabha polls. The by-polls to Kaliaganj was necessitated after the death of the Congress MLA Pramath Nath Roy.