The results of three by-elections in West Bengal require some soul searching for the BJP. The state unit offered excuses: namely, that police and TMC goons influenced the outcome; in Kharagpur, BJP agents in polling booths acted on behalf of the ruling TMC, and finally, that they had failed to counter the ‘misconception’ around the fear of NRC created by the Opposition.
The first two are desperate flailings, but the third has an element of truth. Karimpur and Kaliaganj constituencies are on the border with Bangladesh. With a high percentage of population—Hindu and Muslim—migrants from Bangladesh, they are susceptible to an NRC exercise. The high percentage of polling in Karimpur (81 pc) and Kaliaganj (83 pc) show a desperation to stave off that threat. Kaliaganj and Karimpur have a Muslim population of 40 per cent and 50 per cent. Through a polarisation on religious lines during Lok Sabha polls, the BJP got a lead of over 50,000 votes in Kaliaganj, but Karimpur remained with TMC. This time, polarisation was along pro-NRC and anti-NRC lines. After knowing that many Hindus were excluded in the Assam NRC, Hindu refugees in Bengal, who went with the BJP earlier, have switched sides.
In the cosmopolitan Kharagpur seat, issues were national—privatisation of Indian Railways, economic downturn etc. Though planned campaigning by TMC and others mobilised support against BJP, the Left and the Congress combine’s performed poorly. In 2016, the Congress-Left combine came second behind BJP with 35.8 per cent vote share; this year they are third with a 14.8 per cent share.
The combine had won the Kaliaganj assembly seat in 2016 by over 46,000 votes. In the LS polls, they fought separately and got 8 per cent each. This time they got 8.6 per cent. In Lok Sabha, the combine got 19.2 per cent votes in Karimpur; it has come down to 9 per cent. Evidently, voters have opted for TMC, the force most likely to stave off NRC. CPI(M) leader Md Selim admitted that “despite campaigning hard against NRC, they did not believe us, they trusted Mamata”.