Aby-election would not normally have been of much moment were it not for the profound implications of its outcome. The psephological swing in last week’s tryst in West Bengal’s Kaliaganj, Kharagpur (Sadar) and Karimpur Assembly constituencies is considerably significant. Exactly six months after its rather pedestrian performance in the Lok Sabha elections, Trinamul Congress has now received a shot in the arm. While it has retained Karimpur, the victories in Kaliaganj and Kharagpur (Sadar) have been scored at the expense of the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party.
A comedown certainly for the saffronite outfit which was seemingly on the upswing in West Bengal on 19 May. The CPI-M, which had revived its alliance with the Congress, failed to make headway. No dramatic changes in the state’s governance have occurred since May. The cardinal reason for the BJP’s predicament and the string of victories of the Trinamul Congress has been the latter’s consistently robust campaign against the National Register of Citizens (NRC), verily the counter-mobilisation against the gung-ho pitch of the likes of Amit Shah.
The Chief Minister’s relentless assurance that none will be ejected from the state has well and truly been reinforced by the by-election. Indeed, the controversial NRC turned out to be the predominant theme of the by-election narrative. Yet in the moment of triumph, the feisty Chief Minister has been remarkably pragmatic in her response. There has been no debunking of the BJP or expressions of romantic euphoria by either herself or the party leadership. “It is a mandate,” she said, “against the NRC and in favour of secularism and unity”.
Suffice it to register that a terribly critical and emotive issue has successfully been exploited, and could well be Trinamul’s campaign plank on the eve of next year’s panchayat elections and the Assembly polls in 2021. Beyond the result, there is a message for the BJP inherent in the reaction of the party’s candidate, Kamal Chandra Sarkar, who lost the Kaliaganj seat. He has been remarkably forthright when he attributes the BJP’s defeat to its signal of intent, specifically to replicate the NRC, hitherto limited to Assam, throughout the country ~ “There was fear among the people about the NRC.”
Having said that, he has drawn a fine distinction between the party and government with the supplementary that the “NRC is implemented by the Centre and not the BJP as a party.” The by-elections were held in the immediate aftermath of the announcement of the BJP president and home minister in Parliament that the NRC would be implemented in all states. The party ought to have soft-pedalled on the issue in the context of Assam’s experience.
In West Bengal, voters in the three constituencies have spoken decisively against a hugely divisive National Register of Citizens. The BJP has drawn a blank. The parable of the outcome must be that the NRC calls for deeper reflection by the Centre than has been evident over the past year.