06 Jun 2023  |   04:56am IST

Is opposition unity a myth or a reality?

The Opposition unity meeting originally scheduled for June 12 is likely to be deferred to June 23 owing to unavailability of senior party leaders -- Rahul Gandhi and Mallikarjun Kharge. According to sources, the consensus of all the like-minded parties is being taken before finalising the date. This is also seen as a huge jolt to the efforts of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his deputy Tejashwi Yadav.

According to the political grapevine, the main reason for the postponement of the meeting is Rahul Gandhi's absence. Even Congress national president Mallikarjun Kharge has expressed his reluctance for a meeting in Patna. The Bharat Jodo Yatra of Rahul Gandhi has garnered quite a position and the same has been boosted by the party’s grand success in Karnataka assembly election.

It may be noted that the three of the four Assembly elections -- Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh are coming up just before the Lok Sabha election, where Congress will have a direct fight with the BJP. Any seesaw kind result may be a booster for the Opposition during the crucial Lok Sabha polls.

Also, a meeting in Bihar would also suggest that Nitish Kumar is leading the opposition camp, which the grand-old party would never agree to, the sources said.

A closer look at how the Opposition parties are behaving with each other often baffles political analysts. A direct question often arises in the mind whether the unity quotient is being considered in the right earnest for the entire country or it is segmented and fragmented in layered terms like in the panchayat and the Assembly segments.

This week, I will discuss a very interesting scenario 

that happened in West Bengal recently.

That the lone Congress MLA in West Bengal Byron Biswas has deserted the grand old party and joined the TMC, is a piece of news which any news agency would be putting out to you.

However, as I have always insisted on analysing news and going behind the news to find the news, in this article we shall examine this piece of news microscopically to find out the magnitude of the lone MLA’s exit from the party which, in March 2023, created news and ripples across the political circles of the state and how closely political analysts watched the developments, when he won the Sagardighi bypoll in West Bengal by upsetting the mighty TMC.

Three months after he had won on a Congress ticket from the crucial Sagardighi Assembly seat in a bypoll, and by saving the grace for Congress by giving the party its sole MLA, Byron Biswas on Monday joined the Trinamool Congress surprising one and all.

The March Dhamaka @ Sagardighi

Sagardighi loss was a big setback for the TMC, which also revealed a slide in its hold over Muslims in a constituency that was considered its bastion. The win was special for the beleaguered Congress in West Bengal and it was a huge morale booster for veteran Congress leader, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, as Sagardighi falls in his stronghold of Murshidabad. On Monday after Biswas quit the Congress, Chowdhury accused Biswas of betraying the people who voted for him. Accusing the TMC of using unfair means to woo Biswas, he said: “We will choose a more honest candidate in the future.”

Flashback And ‘Erosion’ Of Minority Vote Bank?

Then Congress’ Byron Biswas, backed by the Left Front had defeated TMC’s Debashis Banerjee, a distant relative of Mamata Banerjee, by a whopping 22,980 votes. The BJP had fielded Dilip Saha. With this win, Biswas had become the only Congress MLA in the Assembly.

Both Mamata and nephew Abhishek had campaigned in Sagardighi. TMC sources had admitted they were worried about the minority vote having shifted to the Congress-CPI(M) alliance because almost 63% of Sagardighi population is Muslim. Tribals constitute another 10%-plus of the votes.

The Vote Matrix

l In the 2021 Assembly elections, TMC’s Subrata Saha had won by more than 50% of the votes and a huge margin of 50,000-plus votes. Its vote share as per Thursday’s results was down to 39%.

l In 2011, Saha had been the only TMC winner from Murshidabad district, long a bastion of the Congress and specifically the party’s West Bengal chief, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury. He had also won the seat in 2016 and 2021.

l After his third win in 2021, he (Saha) was made minister of state. He, however, died of a heart attack in December 2022 and hence the bypoll was necessitated.

l The Congress’s win in Sagar-dighi was very significant as in 2021, it finished third here.

Apart from the minority vote, the TMC was also worried as 

it was sceptical about the women voters who moved away despite several women-friendly schemes of the TMC government. Almost 60% of those who cast their votes were women this time.

Why Sagardighi Was Big For Cong And Bad News For TMC?

In the 2021 Assembly election, almost 90 per cent of the minority vote had gone to the TMC. However, the party was wary about the loss of some minority votes, but it did not expect to lose the Sagardighi seat.

Sagardighi with a 64 per cent Muslim population in the Murshidabad district of central Bengal has been a bastion of the TMC since 2011, with Subrata Saha winning three times on the trot.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the TMC secured 42 per cent of the polled votes in this assembly segment, against BJP’s 23.4 per cent, Congress’s 22.7 per cent and CPM’s 6.8 per cent.

In the 2021 Assembly election, Saha polled 51 per cent, while the BJP’s share stood at 24 per cent and the Left-backed Congress candidate secured only 19.5 per cent.

In this by-poll, the Congress candidate won by a big margin of 22,986 votes, securing 47.35 per cent of the polled votes.

The TMC’s vote share dipped to 34.94 and the BJP’s to 13.94 per cent. The result reflects TMC’s loss of support in an area where Muslims dominate the demography. In 2021, the TMC swept all such areas.

During 2019-2020, issues like the NRC and the CAA helped consolidate Muslim votes in the TMC’s favour. However, after Sagardighi it looked like a section of the Muslims had started feeling disenchanted with the TMC.

This is the first electoral setback for the TMC since returning to power with a thumping majority in 2021. The Panchayat elections are likely to give a clearer picture of the changing political equations, 

if any.

(The writer is senior journalist and former Senior Associate Editor, O Heraldo)


Idhar Udhar