Kolkata Police Prevents CPI(M) Candidate from Holding Rally as Temperature Rises in Bengal Before Bypolls
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Kolkata: Saira Shah Halim, Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)] candidate in the Ballygunge Assembly bypolls in Kolkata, West Bengal, had to change her itinerary for the campaign period for a record seven times. This happened as seven large meetings planned by her in her constituency were declared illegal by the police, who withdrew permission to hold the campaign rallies before the bypolls scheduled for April 12.
The CPI(M) fielded renowned social activist Saira Shah Halim as the party's candidate in the bypolls for the Ballygunge Assembly segment.
In the Asansol Lok Sabha segment, where a bypoll is being held as well, CPI(M) leader Partha Mukherjee is pitted against Trinamool Congress (TMC) candidate Shatrugna Sinha and Bharatiya Janata Party's Agnimitra Paul.
Halim is the daughter-in-law of Former legendary Assembly speaker of West Bengal Assembly late Hashim Abdul Halim and the wife of DR Fuad Halim, who is nicknamed 'People's Doctor' in the state. Fuad Halim is also the secretary of the People's Relief Committee, a voluntary organisation that becomes active during any disaster in the state. Veteran actor Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak Shah have also come out in support of Halim, who is their niece, ahead of the Ballygunge Assembly bypoll.
Both the bypolls have caught people's imagination due to the choice of candidates by the ruling TMC. In Ballygunge, the TMC fielded Babul Supriyo, Bollywood singer and former Union minister in PM Narendra Modi's cabinet. Supriyo proved to be a major turncoat, aligning with the ruling TMC after the last Assembly polls in the state. Babul's negative fame rose due to his tenure as the BJP MP of Asansol during the infamous Asansol riots of 2018.
Alleged verbal instigation from the then MP during the tense times was widely reported, and Supriyo was booked for violating prohibitory orders. The incident had grabbed national headlines in that period. Interestingly, TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee has fielded Supriyo in a seat where nearly 50% of voters are Muslim. According to Rajinder Prasad, a CPI(M) activist, with each passing day, Halim is making a bigger dent into the locality's TMC vote bank, which mainly consists of minority voters.
On the one hand, Ballygunge consists of highrise buildings and villas owned by industrial magnates and successful entrepreneurs, while on the other side, there are slums and low-income areas primarily inhabited by the Muslim community.
In Ballygunge, the bypoll is taking place due to the untimely demise of TMC's stalwart leader and veteran politician of the state Subrata Mukherjee who had won the seat in the last three Assembly polls in 2011, 2016, and 2021, respectively.
In the last Assembly polls, Subrata Mukherjee had a lead of 71,000 votes over his nearest rival in the Assembly segment. Although the figures mentioned above may make it seem like a cakewalk victory for the TMC in the seat, the choice of Supriyo as the candidate complicates the matter. The former BJP MP has been dubbed an instigator in the Asansol riots and was at the forefront of efforts to garner support for the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), and the National Register of Citizens. These past actions, evident to irk a sizeable section of voters in the assembly segment, are expected to cast a shadow over Supriyo's prospects in the bypolls. The BJP has fielded a new face -- Keya Mukherjee -- as its contestant for the seat.
Against this backdrop, the police and administration's efforts to prevent the CPI(M) candidate from holding rallies in Ballygunge signal that the TMC is afraid, Saira Shah Halim recently said in a press conference held at Iran Society in Kolkata. Flanked by MP Bikashranjan BHattachrya, she said it is unlawful for the police to revoke permission. A similar opinion was echoed by MP and advocate Bikhashranjan Bhattacharya on the issue.
According to the anti-CAA and NRC movement's leader Manjar Jamil, "Saira Shah Halim is a well-accepted leader of the anti-CAA-NRC movement, and she is the people's first-choice candidate for the seat," He said.
Interestingly, 26 civil society activists were recently arrested for starting a campaign titled "No vote to BJP or Babul Supriyo". This act of the police earned widespread condemnation in the state for purportedly violating all known legal standards and constitutional rights of free speech.
Also, the incidents like Anis Khan's murder and Rampurhaat Massacre might dent minority votes of the TMC to a significant extent in the bypolls, according to political commentators. The Ballygunge seat, after 2006, has been continuously held by the TMC dispensation.
In the Asansol Lok Sabha segment, present TMC candidate and former BJP lawmaker Shatrugna Sinha faces a volley of questions. Interestingly, in both the Ballygunge Assembly and the Asansol Lok Sabha seats, the TMC's contestants are quite close to the RSS, and this has perturbed many secular democratic people of these two constituencies.
On the other hand, CPI(M) candidate Partha Mukherjee, who was SFI state secretary in the 90's, is a known face of Asansol and is taking his poll campaign to nooks and corners of the Lok Sabha segment. In the industrial area of Asansol, the presence of a large number of factory workers had turned the constituency into a stronghold of the Left. The CPI(M) won the seat eight times in a row from 1989 to 2014.
In 2014 and 2019, Babul Supriyo snatched the Asansol seat from the Left as communal tensions started brewing in the area. The Asansol seat fell vacant after Supriyo resigned from the Lok Sabha in October 2021 citing differences with the BJP. Further, in the last municipal polls, which were marred by allegations of rigging, the TMC maintained its winning streak in Asansol municipal corporation. Thus, the fight in Asansol is expected to be strong between the three contenders.
Against Mukherjee and Sinha, the BJP has fielded fashion designer and its Mahila Morcha president Agnimitra Paul in Asansol.
Prima facie, both the segments look poised for a ruling party takeover. However, the TMC's vote share is expected to face erosion due to its choice of candidates and mounting discontent in the state regarding the murder of Alia University student leader Anis Khan and the Rampurhat Massacre, wherein eight people from minority backgrounds were burnt alive after the murder of local TMC leader Bhadu Sheikh.
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