The Bhabanipur by-poll in West Bengal witnessed about a 48 percent voter turnout until 3 pm on September 30, 2021. The by-poll is a crucial one for Bengal’s chief minister and the Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo, Mamata Banerjee. Despite her party’s mammoth victory on 213 out of the 294 seats during the 2021 West Bengal assembly election, Mamata Banerjee, who is contesting from Nandigram, lost her seat to a confidant-turned-foe, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s Suvendu Adhikari. The Bhabanipur by-poll is Banerjee’s final chance to retain her position at the Writers’ Building before the end of her six months period as the CM, without being a Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA).
Notably, only two chief ministers – Tribhuvan Narayan Singh of Uttar Pradesh in 1970, and Shibu Soren of Jharkhand in 2009 – have lost similar by-polls in the past, failing to retain their top post in the state. The TMC supremo has expressed confidence over winning the election as Bhabanipur is her home seat. Reportedly, she said, “My victory is necessary to continue as chief minister as it is only me who will fight against CAA, NRC, demonetisation and the anti-people policies of BJP.”
Contesting against Mamata Banerjee in the by-poll is Priyanka Tibrewal from the BJP and Srijib Biswas from the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M) – both lawyers. Tibrewal has a weak track record at elections, having lost the 2021 assembly election and the 2015 municipal polls. However, her profile garnered attention with her petitions on the post-poll violence against the state government gaining limelight.
With the by-poll being so significant in deciding the reign of the chief minister, several security measures have been imposed to prevent any sort of nuisance. Strict prohibitory orders have been imposed in and around 200 metres of the polling booth, restricting gatherings of over five people. Further, all 270 voting booths in the south Kolkata legislative constituency have been declared as “sensitive”, with the state high school, where Mamata Banerjee casts her vote declared as “very sensitive”.
Mamata Banerjee contested and won the Bhabanipur assembly seat in 2011 and 2016. She decided to contest from Nandigram in the 2021 assembly election, leaving her “home seat”, in view of the declining numbers in the party’s victory margin. Though Mamata lost at Nandigram, her party’s nominee, Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay won the seat with a huge margin, defeating the BJP’s celebrity nominee – Rudranil Ghosh. Chattopadhyay, however, had to resign to facilitate the party supremo in resuming her duties at the top post at the Writers’ Building.
The TMC has been witnessing a steady decline in their win margins at the Bhabanipur seat. Mamata Banerjee won the seat with a vote share of over 77 percent in 2011, but the vote share declined to 48 percent in 2016. The TMC had a lead of only about 3,000 votes over the BJP in 2019. In the 2021 assembly election, although Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay’s win margin took a 15 percent point leap over the 2016 election, his opponent from the BJP, Rudranil Ghosh’s vote share increased by 35 percent.