The by-election for the Kharagpur assembly constituency will be a litmus test for the Trinamul Congress candidate, Pradip Sarkar, the current chairman of Kharagpur municipality as he is contesting against the BJP candidate Prem Chandra Jha, who had contested in 2006 on an RJD ticket and as a BJP candidate in 2011.
Among the three Assembly seats where election will be held on 25 November, the Kharagpur Sadar seat is the most prestigious because it’s Dilip Ghosh, the BJP state president, who has taken on the responsibility of canvassing here. A defeat for the BJP here could be portentous for the party as well as Ghosh. Knowing this fully well, the party has even roped in its MLA from Andhra Pradesh Tiger Singh, aka “Tiger Raja”, famous for his controversial remarks, to woo Teluguspeaking voters. As a local leader said, the huge cutouts and festoons all over Kharagpur present a picture resembling Andhra election campaigning.
This apart, this by-election will be an indication of which way the political winds are blowing in the state. It will be the first electoral contest between the BJP and TMC since this year’s parliamentary polls, in which the saffron party bagged 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state, just four less than the ruling Trinamul Congress’s tally.
The seat, once a Congress bastion, was wrested by the BJP in 2016, when state BJP president Dilip Ghosh defeated 10- time MLA of the Congress, Gyan Singh Sohanpal, by over 5,000 votes. Since then the seat has turned saffron.
After Ghosh was elected from Medinipur Lok Sabha seat in May this year, he vacated the Assembly seat, thus leading to the by-poll in this urban seat, famous for its IIT-Kharagpur.
To win the seat, TMC has fielded 38-year-old Pradip Sarkar, the current chairman of Kharagpur municipality and once a close aide of West Midnapore SP Bharati Ghosh, who interestingly is now with the BJP. “As a former close aide of Bharati Ghosh, Pradip Sarkar has good contacts in the BJP too. So, he is the best challenger to throw out the BJP from here,” said a senior local TMC leader. “Pradip Sarkar also has the support of TMC leader and minister Shuvendu Adhikari. Shuvendu will make him MLA,” the TMC leader added.
But the contest won’t be easy. There’s a factional feud within the TMC ~ three to four TMC councillors are reportedly opposed to Sarkar’s candidature.
Moreover, the BJP has a strong presence among Teluguspeaking voters, which according to locals, constitute 30 per cent of the electorate.
“I am confident of winning the poll as the state president is himself canvassing for me. This apart, the party workers are toiling every moment to get people to vote in my favour,” said Jha.
But BJP is also suffering from internal feuds as the party’s veteran leader Pradip Patnaik is contesting as an Independent candidate which may cut a section of voters from BJP’s fold.
The by-polls will also decide if the opposition Congress and the CPI-M, which have come together after three years, will remain relevant in the state politics or become redundant.
“In the last Assembly election, Congress was defeated because the TMC vote got transferred to Dilip Ghosh. This time it will not happen. The Left Front is also supporting us. So, we will win,” said a local Congress leader campaigning for the party’s Chittaranjan Mondol, a High School teacher commonly known as ‘Masterji’.
BJP candidate Dilip Ghosh won the seat in 2016 by defeating the Congress’ Gyan Singh Soho Pal by a margin of 6309 votes while in the last parliamentary polls in 2019, Mr Ghosh bagged 93,425 votes from this assembly segment with TMC candidate Manas Bhunia getting 48,293 votes, well over 45,000 votes behind.