The tribal-populated Habibpur Assembly constituency will witness by-elections during the last phase of the Lok Sabha polls in the state on 19 May.

Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) of the area, Khagen Murmu, had defected to the Bharatiya Janata Party prior to the Parliamentary elections and had tendered his resignation to contest for the saffron brigade in the North Malda Lok Sabha seat.

The by-election has its own political gravity for the ruling Trinamul Congress, BJP and the CPI-M, which had the seat under its belt from 1972.

However, the last assembly elections in 2016 and panchayat elections in 2018 saw a significant change in the political arena of the area.

The power shift was marked by the emergence of TMC and BJP making it a tough nut to crack for the communist party this time.

The Congress, owing to its weak organizational abilities, seems to lag behind other parties among the four major political parties contesting the by-polls. If the BJP finally does manage to win the seat, it could have a massive impact in state-level politics.

While, TMC, which lost to Mr Murmu, the then CPI-M candidate supported by the Congress in the previous assembly elections, by a margin of around 2500 votes, should also feel confident about their chances.

On the other hand, Habibpur assembly seat is known to be the Left Front bastion as they held the seat for a long period of time and has become a prestigious political challenge for the party. The Congress, boasting of a new district organizing committee with its former district president, Mausam Noor, switching allegiance to the TMC prior to the LS polls, will most likely return empty-handed in the by-polls, observers feel.

The assembly seat has 2,40, 071 voters, and is dominated by tribal Hindu people, who make up almost 90 per cent of the total voters.

In the recent Lok Sabha polls on 23 April, 81.46 per cent voters (99504 female and 96059 male) made it to polling stations. The Election Cell of Malda has set up 247 booths, including five female managed model (pink) polling stations.

To combat extreme heat, 500 litres of drinking water will be stored for the voters and shaded areas are also being arranged for by district election officials.

Eight candidates are in the fray in the by-election that is being looked upon as a quadrangular fight between the BJP, TMC, CPI-M and Congress by political observers here.

Joyel Murmu, the opposition leader of the Malda Zilla Parishad, will contest the seat on a BJP ticket. Amal Kisku, who almost won the seat last time, will represent the TMC this time too, whereas Sadhu Tudu, the former MLA of Gazole, will contest the seat on a CPI-M ticket.

Rejina Murmu, the former Panchayat Samity Sabhapati of Habibpur will represent the Congress party. The issues in the election revolve round development in this rural area of the district consisting large portions of the Habibpur and Bamongola developmental blocks.

The area, being dry and drought-prone, has drinking and irrigation water problems as its main headache.

“Political parties would likely stress on the issue during campaigns. The Tangan River, flowing through the area, which is mostly covered with water hyacinths, will be a topic political party might pounce upon,” a political observer said.

The two Panchayat Samity seats here were grabbed by the BJP in 2018 and leaders would look to talk about it too, the observer added.

Madhumoy Sarkar, the Sahasabhadhipati of the Habibpur Panchayat Samity, of the BJP, and Congress block president Premnath Choudhury, said that they would protest after the polls if the project started to clean the river does not pick up the pace.

Farmers, who lost their crop last season, have not received any compensation and that fact can go against the ruling party, they said. On the other hand, TMC has been laying stress on the projects the government had taken up for the development of this area, like water reservoirs, stadium and sports complex, and special plan for football which is a popular sport in this corner of the district, among others.

Subhendu Adhikari, the state minister and party observer for Malda, said in a meeting recently that the TMC will be “flooding” the constituency with development if the ruling party secured the seat. The CPI-M raised their voice against both the TMC and the BJP on what it called was their autocratic and communal politics and policies.

District secretary of the party, Ambar Mitra said, “There’s no question about our stronghold in the constituency over the years and this time we will surely retain the seat.”

The Congress, by not having an alliance with the Left Front this time like in 2016, is relying on relations of their candidate, Rejina Murmu, with the masses.

“Recent victories of the BJP in the tribal belt may give them an advantage, but the TMC, which lost by a small margin last time, will surely put up a good fight. The CPI-M cannot be underestimated as well when it comes to Habibpur for the long history here, while the Congress could be the unlikely dark horse,” a political observer said.

“There is no doubt about our victory here. Other parties will be contesting for the second spot,” said Ajoy Ganguly, the district election convener of the BJP.

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