How a change in West Bengal Raiganj since 2016 reflects political change in the state
A streak of five consecutive electoral victories starting in 1996 and the latest with an outright 59% vote share in 2016. That’s how dominant Congress has been in Raiganj constituency, West Bengal, all these years. .
In fact, out of the state’s 16 legislative elections to date, Congress has won this seat 11 times. And in every election since 1996, the party’s share of the vote has increased – from just under 40 percent to 59 percent 20 years later.
Raiganj, who votes on April 17, was one of the few constituencies where Congress held firm in most elections during the Left Front’s 34 years of uninterrupted rule. Even its split in the late 1990s, following the formation of the Trinamool Congress (TMC), had no impact on Congressional fortunes in the constituency.
The seat of the assembly in the district of Uttar Dinajpur is part of the eponymous constituency of Raiganj Lok Sabha.
The seat of Lok Sabha was represented by well-known congressional leaders such as Siddhartha Shankar Ray and Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi.
Tale Twists in 2019 Lok Sabha elections
“Raiganj has been a stronghold of Congress for as long as I can remember. But things started to change after the TMC got a second term, ”a Raiganj-based political analyst told India Today. “There was a massive displacement of Congressional workers here to the TMC after the 2016 legislative election and mainstream congressional voters started to move towards the BJP,” said the analyst, who asked not to to be named.
The result: a sort of capitulation for the region’s Congress in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Party candidate Deepa Dasmunsi, winner of that seat in 2009, came far fourth in Lok Sabha’s seat with just seven percent of the vote. She could manage only 9,755 votes in Raiganj’s segment of the assembly.
Infographic: India today DIU
By the way, while Congress lost nearly 78,000 votes in the Assemblies segment in 2019 compared to 2016, the BJP’s gain exceeded 71,000 votes between the two elections.
Political observers say that excited by an impressive performance in the 2016 parliamentary elections, Mamata Banerjee’s TMC began to focus on areas where the party did not have an organizational mechanism in place. In places like Raiganj, this meant a massive exodus from the local Congress base to join the TMC.
BJP Aaggressive Push Created
“We had a situation where Congress and the left lost their presence on the ground. As a result, anti-TMC voters had only one platform, that of the Bharatiya Janata Party, to partner with. The aggressive push by the BJP statewide and the popularity of the prime minister also helped solidify this change, ”the Raiganj-based analyst said.
An almost total transfer of traditional votes from Congress to the BJP in 2019 reflected this shift.
The script played out the same statewide. According to the Center for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) post-poll survey of the 2019 elections, nearly 40% of traditional left-wing voters and one-third of traditional congressional voters supported the BJP in West Bengal.
In Raiganj, however, the change in traditional congressional voters was well over a third.
Infographic: India today DIU
“People started talking about the futility of voting for Congress or the left in Raiganj. Even though they like the sitting congressman, they say that voting for a party other than the TMC or the BJP is like wasting your vote, ”the Raiganj-based analyst said.
CSDS analysis shows that the BJP has become a big beneficiary of a polarized verdict in which both parties – the TMC and the BJP – came away with a combined 83 percent vote share, relegating all others to the ‘insignificance.
Political observers are looking for clues as to whether the marginalization of the left and of Congress in 2019 was just a one-off event. And if the verdict in 2021 will be less polarized.
Raiganj’s comeback, however, is that the Congress-left combination is struggling to make its presence felt this time around, too. “We don’t know what the actual vote will be. But in people’s conversation, you are either with the TMC or with the BJP. There is no buzz on any other front here, ”the analyst said.
Are we also going to see a similar trend elsewhere in the state?