The upcoming Sabang Assembly bypoll on December 21 would be a litmus test for both the ruling Trinamool Congress as well as the BJP, which has been trying to emerge as the principal opposition party in the state. The TMC is making all efforts to woo voters of Sabang, a traditional Congress bastion, by fielding Gita Rani Bhunia, wife of former Congress leader Manas Bhunia who had defected to the Mamata Banerjee-led party earlier this year. The BJP has nominated Antara Bhattacharya while the Congress has fielded Chiranjib Bhowmick, a local leader. The CPI(M)’s Rita Mandal will contest the seat as a Left Front candidate. Bhunia, who had won the seat as a Congress candidate in last year’s assembly polls was elected to Rajya Sabha on a TMC ticket, necessitating the bypoll. The Congress had fought the 2016 assembly polls in the state in alliance with the CPI(M)-led Left Front and Bhunia had secured 59.70 per cent votes. The TMC had then bagged 36 per cent votes.
State Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury alleged that Bhunia had betrayed the Congress and the people of Sabang for his personal gains. “The people will give him a befitting reply. The result will serve as a lesson to Congress MLAs who had defected to other parties for their personal gains,” he said. Bhunia, however, dismissed all apprehensions and said the TMC will win the seat. “The people of Sabang constituency know what I have done for them during my tenure as an MLA. The TMC will win by a big margin”. Notwithstanding defection of many party leaders to the TMC in the last one year, the Congress is hopeful of retaining the seat.
A former state Congress president, Bhunia had been holding the turf since 1982, except for two phases in 1996 and 2001, when the Biplabi Bangla Congress, a Left Front partner, won the seat. To embarrass Bhunia, the Congress is using a video in its poll campaign, where the Rajya Sabha MP is seen attacking the TMC regime and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee before the last year’s assembly election for alleged misrule. The BJP, which has been making inroads into the state, is also leaving no stone unturned to increase its vote share. The saffron party had secured only 2.6 per cent votes in Sabang in the 2016 assembly polls. “We will win Sabang seat this time. The people of this constituency have seen the double standards of Manas Bhunia. They would no longer trust him,” state BJP president Dilip Ghosh claimed.
The bypoll is also seen as a test of organisational capability of Mukul Roy, the former national general secretary of Trinamool Congress who joined the BJP recently. Roy said that he doesn’t have a magic wand and it would be wrong to say that the bypoll would be a test for his abilities but he is certain that the BJP will do well. “Given the trend in the last few elections, I can say that BJP will come out with flying colours,” he said. The CPI(M) is campaigning hard to make its presence felt in the region. Although, the CPI(M) leadership has decided to go it alone in the bypoll, a large section of the party’s district leaders feel that an alliance with Congress like they had in the last assembly election, would have helped both the parties.