Bengal bypolls: Left resurgence in Ballygunge a lesson for TMC, BJP

CPI(M) candidate Saira Shah Halim flashes the victory sign during her visit to a polling booth during Ballygunge Assembly by-polls, in Kolkata, Tuesday, April 12, 2022. PHOTO: PTI/Swapan Mahapatra

Kolkata: Ballygunge did keep its promise. Results of the bypolls for this important Assembly constituency in south Kolkata that were declared on Saturday have certainly thrown up a few surprises.

On expected lines, Babul Supriyo did clinch the seat for the Trinamool Congress (or maybe it was the other way round) with a margin of 20,208 votes but there is call for introspection.

The vote share of the Trinamool Congress dipped by a whopping 20.9 per cent since 2021.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which was in second place in 2021 with a vote percentage of 20.68 per cent, also witnessed a slide of 7.2 per cent less than a year later. The beneficiary in this case was the Left Front which recorded a gain of 24.5 per cent.

In 2021, the Left had a seat sharing agreement with the Congress. Yet, Fuad Halim of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) managed to get only 5.61 per cent of the votes.

Left fields a 'hustler'

This year, the Left went alone and fielded a newcomer in mainstream politics and witnessed a resurgence. Nobody with any experience in politics had expected Saira Shah Halim of the CPI-M to win the contest. What they were waiting to see is whether she can claw her way up to second position. And she succeeded in doing just that, bagging more than 17,000 votes than BJP candidate Keya Ghosh.

While Saira's uncle Naseeruddin Shah and aunt Ratna Pathak Shah had sent out video messages seeking support for her from voters, her father Lt Gen Zameer Uddin Shah (retd) had called this a David Vs Goliath fight. Well, Goliath may have won but David did put up a spirited fight.

Saira's father, however, did point her to an article by Zainab Sikander on how the Indian Muslim needs a modern Muslim woman leader - 'one who floats from English to Urdu, who is culturally Islamic but does not necessarily dress the part, who speaks of the community's economic decay, fuelled by boycott and restrictions on street vendors, and who talks on education and healthcare. India's Muslim community doesn't need a rabble rouser. We need a hustler.' Saira is just that.

Accepted that fewer people turned up to vote on Tuesday for the bypoll. However, this doesn't mean that everybody who stayed away from the polling booth would have cast his or her vote in favour of the Trinamool Congress.

The Ballygunge Assembly Constituency has a large number of voters from the minority community. In 2021, a polarization had been witnessed in which Muslim votes were cast in favour of the Trinamool Congress. Things seem to have changed this time after the party fielded Babul Supriyo as a candidate.

As the BJP MP from Asansol and a Union minister, Babul Supriyo had toed his party line on minority issues. His resignation came only after he was denied a ministerial position.

The Trinamool Congress felt that they have the minority vote bank on their side, no matter who is fielded as the candidate, and ended up losing votes. "We were always against fielding Babul Supriyo here," a senior leader of the Trinamool Congress said on condition of anonymity.

If one is to accept that a significant number of voters from the minority community did vote for Saira, it would mean that they have accepted her as a potential leader - an educated Muslim woman who speaks and works for the development of the community as a whole.

This would also break the myth that the minority community in India and West Bengal votes blindly in favour of whoever their religious leaders ask them to. This is a lesson that all parties can take back home from this interesting contest.

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