On a firm footing
The sweeping victory of TMC in three assembly seats in West Bengal — Bhabanipur, Samserganj and Jangipur — has reaffirmed how difficult it is to challenge the party in the state. Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress has now wiped out the only sore point left after the 2021 Bengal Assembly polls — that of its prime leader failing to secure an assembly seat by a slight margin. On a more practical note, Bhabanipur by-polls have brushed aside all the speculations and uncertainty over Mamata Banerjee's continuance as a CM. And beyond that, the victory provides a further fillip to the popular perception of Mamata Being one of the most prominent challenging figures against the right-wing BJP government at the Centre. After the May 2021 Bengal Assembly elections, where the TMC handed over a humiliating defeat to the BJP, Mamata Banerjee's loss in Nandigram by a slight margin of 1,956 votes at the hands of BJP's Suvendu Adhikari had hitherto been a spoiling spot for the party's success. The malignity of the perception is now outshone by a record victory with a margin of 58,835 votes. This shift in perception — even though coming out of a single-seat victory — has a great potential to shape state and national politics over the coming years. Mamata Banerjee had represented the Bhabanipur assembly seat earlier in 2011 and 2016 as well. The seat went to TMC's Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay in the 2021 assembly polls, who tendered resignation subsequently, paving the way for Mamata Banerjee to contest from the seat. First of all, as the Bengal CM highlighted in her victory speech, nearly half of the population in the Bhabanipur assembly seat is non-Bengali. This statement has a lot to signify. What Mamata Banerjee was trying to convey was her outreach is not just limited to Bengali voters, but way beyond. This claim may have a fair degree of testification, given that she secured around 72 per cent of the total votes. Her runner-up — BJP candidate Priyanka Tibrewal — could only garner 22 per cent of the total votes in the seat. The self-claimed 'man of the match' of the contest, Priyanka Tibrewal, seemed quite satisfied to have given a competing fight to the West Bengal CM. But victory remains a victory in politics, and defeat a defeat. Apart from Bhabanipur, TMC also secured landslide victories in Samserganj and Jangipur. In Jangipur, TMC's Jakir Hossain defeated BJP's Sujit Das by a whopping margin of 92,480 votes. In Samserganj, the victory margin for the TMC candidate, Amirul Islam, was 26,379 votes, but the runner-up, in this case, was Congress' Zaidur Rahaman; the assembly seat is known to have been a Congress stronghold. In total, while the TMC has reaffirmed its stronghold in the state, the BJP's aspirations of being a challenging opposition have taken a backseat for a while and Congress appears to be losing its influence in the state. The Congress's decision to not place its candidate for the Bhabanipur may appear to some as a smart political move to keep the chances slim for the BJP, some also see it as a sign of fading political control and confidence. This trend had been perhaps reflected in assembly polls as well. Apart from the three assembly seats of West Bengal, byelections for the Pipli seat in Odisha also sent some similar reflections. The BJD candidate Rudra Pratap Maharathy defeated the BJP candidate Ashrit Pttnayak by a significant margin of 20,916 votes. All eyes will now be on the upcoming byelections in the remaining four assembly seats in West Bengal. TMC seems set to field Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay from Khardah, Braj Kishor Goswami from Santipur, Udayab Guha from Dinhata and Subrata Mondal from Gosaba. The total number of seats for the TMC has already reached a staggering 219. It will be interesting to see if the TMC continues with its impressive victory streak or the BJP will bounce back in the upcoming byelections. It has to be said that the results of the recent by-elections for the three assembly seats has given TMC — which was already in a dominant position — an extra edge while narrowing the political path of both the BJP and Congress in the state. Though not of decisive nature, each political development at the current stage is shaping the prospect of parties for 2024. Political developments in West Bengal are to be more closely watched, as the state chief is increasingly registering her influence over national politics. Every step is important at this juncture and the shaping of perceptions is to be taken seriously.