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Bengal holds by-polls Saturday in Saradha scam shadow

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Kolkata, Sep 11 (IANS) In the enlarging shadow of the Saradha chit fund scam probe, which threatens to net political big fish, West Bengal would hold by-polls to the Chowringhee and Basirhat (South) assembly constituencies Saturday, in what is being considered a crucial indicator of the course of politics in the state.

With the ruling Trinamool Congress under fire from political rivals over the multi-crore-rupee chit fund scandal, in which two of its leaders – Kunal Ghosh and Rajat Majumdar – are already behind bars and several others have faced grilling from the CBI, the opposition parties are smelling a chance to stage a comeback in the by-elections by harping on the issue of corruption.

But more vital than that, the state seems to be at the political crossroads and the byelections could provide a snap trailer of the future of the state ahead of the municipal polls next year and the assembly polls of 2016.

While the main opposition Left Front led by the Communist Party of India-Marxist was nearly reduced to a marginal force in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the Bharatiya Janata Party is going all out to capture the ani-government political space.

In the general elections, the BJP’s vote share shot up to 17 percent – nearly treble of what it got in 2009.

The BJP’s vote increased mostly at the expense of the Left Front, whose vote share eroded to 29 percent. The Congress barely managed nine percent of the popular mandate, around half of the BJP’s share.

It was the first time that the BJP secured more votes than the Congress in the state. So while BJP would hope to continue the momentum and make a dent in a state where it has been traditionally weak, the Left Front and the Congress are looking at reversing the slide in their fortunes.

Chowringhee in Kolkata was won by Trinamool’s Sikha Mitra in 2011 assembly polls, where the party fought jointly with the Congress. Sikha, wife of veteran politician Somen Mitra, quit the Trinamool after the 2014 general elections, necessitating the by-polls.

Somen Mitra, who won the Diamond Harbour Lok Sabha seat on Trinamool ticket in 2009, quit the party and contested the April-May general elections on a Congress ticket from Kolkata North, which includes Chowringhee. He lost his deposit, but finished first in the Chowringhee segment.

Chowringhee had elected Congress candidates from 1982 to 2001, excepting the victory of a CPI-M candidate in 1993 by-polls. From 2001, it has always elected Trinamool contestants.

The 200,256 electors spread across 222 polling stations have to choose from nine candidates – Trinamool’s Nayna Bandyopadhyay, BJP’s Ritesh Tiwari, Congress’ Santosh K. Pathak, CPI-M’s Faiyaz Ahmad Khan and five independents.

In contrast, Basirhat (South), which is going to the hustings prematurely following the death of the CPI-M legislator Narayan Mukherjee, has five candidates – all from established political parties.

The CPI-M has nominated Mrinal Chakraborty, while former Indian soccer captain Dipendu Biswas is fighting on a Trinamool ticket. The Congress nominee is Asit Majumdar and the BJP has reposed faith in its senior state leader Samik Bhattacharya, who was the party candidate from Basirhat in the general elections earlier this year. There is also a SUCI-C candidate.

The BJP workers are all keyed up, because though Bhattacharya lost the Lok Sabha polls, he finished first in the Basirhat (South) segment, leaving behind his nearest Trinamool rival by over 30,000 votes.

The BJP, has made infiltration from across the Bangladesh border a major issue in Basirhat (South) – a seat newly carved out in 2011 – where 235,843 people are eligible to vote in 286 polling stations.

Realising that reversals in the by-polls could provide oxygen to the opposition and weaken its own position in the run up to the 2016 elections, the Trinamool has gone all out, fielding a host of ministers and top leaders, as also several Bengali films stars to woo the voters. However, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who is also the party chief, has stayed away from the campaign.

The CPI-M has relied mainly on door-to-door campaigns, while the BJP even brought its national president Amit Shah to address a meeting in Chowringhee.

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