Howrah Lok Sabha bypoll in shadow of Saradha scam

In 1999, when the TMC contested the poll in tie-up with the BJP, the TMC won the seat by a meagre 6,535 votes or 0.64 percent votes.

Updated: May 26, 2013, 11:49 AM IST

Kolkata: The Howrah Lok Sabha by-election to be held in the shadow of Saradha chitfund scam will be a test case for the Mamata Banerjee government`s popularity and for the Congress and the CPI(M) to gauge their standing in West Bengal prior to the 2014 general election.

The Trinamool Congress has fielded former India football captain Prasun Banerjee, the Congress a lawyer Sanatan Mukherjee and CPI(M) Dip Bhattacherjee, a former party Howrah district secretary, while the BJP has opted out following instructions from the party president Rajnath Singh for the June 2 bypoll.

The winner of the by-poll is also likely to have a bearing in the panchayat polls due to be held in three phases in early July.

In 1999, when the TMC contested the poll in tie-up with the BJP, the TMC won the seat by a meagre 6,535 votes or 0.64 percent votes.

In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP bagged 37,723 votes in the seat, which was 3.8 percent of the total votes polled.

The BJP received 4.5 per cent of votes in seven assembly segments of the Lok Sabha seat in 2011 when the TMC won in 15 of the 16 seats and Congress in one, with the Left Front defeated in all constituencies.

Analysts felt that the BJP`s withdrawal from the Howrah bypoll could prove to be an electoral gain for Mamata Banerjee`s party and triggering speculation that the party wanted to keep its door ajar for TMC in 2014.

Bengal BJP chief Rahul Sinha had said that Rajnath Singh had called him up to convey the central leadership`s decision.

Mamata Banerjee has, however, not shown any inclination towards the BJP and has attacked it, besides the Congress and CPI(M), in recent public rallies.

For the Congress the election will be an acid test to determine its strength since the TMC quit the UPA in September last year.

"We are hopeful that we will win the seat," said WBPCC chief Pradip Bhattacharya and added that Sanatan Mukherjee was a very good candidate with a clean image.

The CPI(M)`s primary objective, on the other hand, was to reduce the margin of defeat and with an eye to take advantage of the split in the Congress and TMC votes.

In the last three assembly by-polls in February this year the percentage of votes of the Left had come down. It would be a challenge for the Left to stop its repetition.

The Saradha Group scam has become a major campaign issue with the contesting parties accusing each other.

While the TMC blamed the CPI(M) for the mushrooming of the chitfund companies during the Left Front tenure, the Marxist coalition blamed the TMC for the ruin of many who had invested in ponzi schemes during its two year rule.

The Trinamool Congress supremo will undertake two massive roadshows and address a rally this month-end to reach out to the voters in the constituency.

The TMC is also highlighting the Left Front`s alleged reign of terror in the past three decades and corruption and scams.

The by-election was caused by the death of Trinamool Congress leader Ambika Banerjee who had defeated Swadesh Chakraborty of CPI(M) by 37,392 votes in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls to become an MP when TMC fought the election in alliance with the Congress.