Dhupguri bypoll in North Bengal puts INDIA bloc’s unity to test

The bypoll was necessitated following the death of its sitting BJP MLA Bishu Pada Ray earlier this year.

Kolkata: The INDIA opposition bloc faces a crucial test in the upcoming bypoll in Dhupguri assembly segment as its important constituents, TMC and Congress-CPI(M) alliance, fight it out against each other to wrest the rural seat in North Bengal from the BJP.

The bypoll on September 5 is also a litmus test for all three political outfits, with the BJP hoping to check its 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 its sitting BJP MLA Bishu Pada Ray earlier this year.

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Dotted by tea gardens, the seat in Jalpaiguri district is an agricultural settlement with a considerable population of Rajbanshis and Matua communities, who voted for the saffron camp in the 2021 assembly polls. The constituency also has around 15 per cent minority population.

CPI(M) state secretary Mohammed Salim and Congress president Adhir Rajan Chowdhury held a massive rally in Dhupguri, hitting out at both the TMC and the BJP, as their central leadership was holding brainstorming session with the TMC and other anti-BJP parties at the third INDIA opposition meet to discuss the strategy to defeat the saffron camp in 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

Although the CPI(M), Congress, and TMC have dubbed it as local elections, with no bearings on opposition unity efforts, the BJP has gone hammer and tongs pointing at the frictions in the INDIA camp.

“It is a local election and has nothing to do with the Indian opposition bloc. At the local level, we are fighting our own battle,” state Congress president Adhir Ranjan 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 that had been a bastion of the Left from 1977-2011, is no exception.

The CPI(M) has fielded Ishwar Chandra Roy, a teacher by profession, from the seat.

The TMC, which had repeatedly accused the CPI(M) and Congress of helping the BJP in West Bengal, has negated 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 role of the CPI(M) and Congress is helping the BJP. We are steadfast in our fight against the BJP,” TMC MP Santanu Sen said.

The 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’s national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee has been leading the campaign in the area.

The TMC has also fielded a 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 of its MLAs and rapidly declining vote share, is putting all efforts to retain the seat and change the norm of losing all the byelections since its defeat in the 2021 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.

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 the TMC.

Political analyst Biswanath Chakraborty said the bypoll has interesting facets as it has been seen how the Left-Congress, which has been regaining its ground after its bypoll victory in Sagardighi earlier this year, manages to retain its upward rise given the fact that they are sharing dais with the TMC at the national level.

“The Left-Congress was gaining as anti-TMC votes shifted from the BJP to them. Now, after the opposition INDIA bloc meeting where it thrice shared the dais with the TMC, it has to be seen how they manage those contradictions at the ground level,” he said.

The counting of votes will take place on September 8.

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