West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee (Photo by DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP via Getty Images)
MAMATA Banerjee, one of the frontline faces against prime minister Narendra Modi, on Sunday (3) strengthened her chances to evolve as a key figure in the opposition ranks ahead of the 2024 general elections by winning a crucial by-poll.
In April, Banerjee, the chief minister of the eastern Indian state of West Bengal, lost in the state election narrowly to her friend-turned-foe Suvendu Adhikari in the politically charged constituency of Nandigram in the state. The chief minister had to win a by-election within six months to continue as the chief minister and she did it in her old Bhabanipur constituency in the state capital of Kolkata where she beat Priyanka Tibrewal of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) by a record margin of 58,832 votes. Adhikari, a former minister in Banerjee’s government and currently the leader of the opposition in the state assembly, joined the BJP last year.
Banerjee, who leads the state’s ruling Trinamool Congress, will now extend her chief ministerial tenure to 15 years, which is one of the longest in the history of the state. The three-time chief minister, who is also the state’s only woman to do so, is now set to better the records of her immediate predecessor Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) who was in power for almost 11 years and Bidhan Chandra Roy of the Congress, who was in the office between 1948 and 1962 and is considered among the best chief ministers the state has had.
With this win, Banerjee’s chances of emerging as the face of the anti-Modi brigade in the 2024 national elections get stronger. Her party is in the middle of expanding wings in other parts of India apart from its stronghold Bengal and is even challenging the Indian National Congress’s base.
Banerjee’s opponents seeks court help over post-poll violence
Tibrewal, an advocate and a less-known political face, meanwhile has written to the Calcutta High Court in Kolkata seeking preventive measures in connection to possible post-poll violence after the results were announced. Bengal is historically known for its serious post-election violence in which the ruling party – irrespective of the colour – is often accused of targeting the opponents after securing wins in the ballot box.
Referring to incidents of violence that took place in Bengal after the results of the state elections came out in May, Tibrewal said, “Taking the ghastly scenario into reference, I, as a candidate for this by-election, humbly request you give a strict order to all the government enforcement department to take extreme precautionary measures so that no innocent life is lost, no sexual crime is committed, no public is left homeless, no incident of arson is recorded and we live in a peaceful environment come what may be the outcome on the 3rd October, 2021.”
This is the second time that Banerjee has won a bypoll to become the chief minister. In 2011, she hadn’t contested the state election as she was a central minister then. Later, she won a bypoll from Bhabanipur to enter the state assembly after her party trounced the Left to bring to an end its 34-year-rule in Bengal.
This year, her party beat Modi’s BJP in a sweeping victory to register a hattrick of electoral wins.