The key takeaways from the bypoll to Dhupguri in Bengal


Voters wait in queue at a polling booth during the bye-election to the Dhupguri Assembly seat in West Bengal’s Jalpaiguri district.

Voters wait in queue at a polling booth during the bye-election to the Dhupguri Assembly seat in West Bengal’s Jalpaiguri district.
| Photo Credit: PTI

The Trinamool Congress’s victory in the Dhupguri bye-election has not only given it an advantage over the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in West Bengal ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, but has also given it an upper hand as far as the Opposition INDIA bloc in the State is concerned.

The Trinamool wrested the Dhupguri seat from the BJP by a margin of 4,309 votes. It won despite that fact that party chairperson and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee did not campaign.

Since the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, when the BJP swept the whole of north Bengal, Dhupguri, which has a significant population of Rajbangshis, has been considered a bastion of the saffron party. Rajbangshis comprise 30% of the population of the region dotted with tea gardens, and are largely included in the Schedule Castes category. They have been a crucial support block for the BJP in north Bengal.

While allegations of widespread irregularities and violence marred the recent panchayat polls, there were no such issues during the Dhupguri bypoll. The Opposition parties, too, did not raise allegations of unfairness. The win for the Trinamool in the BJP’s bastion indicates that the allegations of corruption dominating the State’s political landscape over the past few years have not stuck to it.

The bye-election results also indicate that the plethora of welfare measures, particularly cash-incentive schemes, rolled out by the Trinamool government have given the party an edge. The government claims that 55 such schemes have been envisaged by the Chief Minister. Political observers say that the bye-election results reinforce the success of the ‘patron-client’ model that the Trinamool leadership has developed through its welfare schemes.

The Trinamool leadership had promised that Dhupguri would be converted into a ‘mohakama (subdivision)’ by the end of this year. The development promise by Trinamool general secretary Abhishek Banerjee also helped turn the tide in favour of the ruling party.

Ms. Banerjee declared that the result “was a big victory not just for north Bengal, but also the whole of Bengal.” She also said that the results of bypolls across several States in the country “were a big win for the INDIA team”.

However, the bypoll has also exposed the differences in the INDIA bloc in West Bengal. Not only did the Left parties, with the support of the Congress, field a candidate in a seat where the Trinamool and the BJP were in direct contest, but on September 1, when 26 Opposition parties in INDIA were holding a meeting in Mumbai, State Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and CPI(M) State Secretary Md. Salim held a joint rally in favour of the alliance candidate in Dhupguri, and targeted the Trinamool.

However, the candidate, Ishwar Chandra Roy, secured only 13,758 votes (6.52%) despite both the CPI(M) and Congress State leadership campaigning for him. This was in sharp contrast to the results of the Sagardighi bye-election in Murshidabad earlier this year: the CPI(M)-supported Congress candidate defeated the Trinamool nominee by a margin of nearly 24,000 votes.

The Left-Congress alliance’s poor performance in Dhupguri indicates that the contest in the 2024 general election may largely turn out to be two-party contest rather than a three-party one. The bypoll result also indicates that the Trinamool leadership may not concede any ground to the Left-Congress alliance when there is discussion in the INDIA bloc on seat-sharing in West Bengal.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP put up its best performance in the State by winning 18 seats. Since then, the party has been unable to stem its inexorable decline in West Bengal, with the latest result coming as yet another major setback. Soon after the results were announced, the State BJP leadership began to squabble in public with some leaders demanding to know why new entrants from the Trinamool were given key party posts. The BJP’s growth in West Bengal was associated with the rise of identity politics and religious polarisation. Several elections in the last two and half years have indicated that this formula is not working.

West Bengal elects 42 MPs to the Lok Sabha. The Trinamool won just 22 seats in 2019 compared to the 34 that it had won in 2014. A bye-election may not reflect the mood of the electorate, but if it is of any indication, it is now advantage Trinamool Congress.


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