Sabang bypoll analysis – Congress’ rout in its bastion, the saffron surge and why TMC should be worried

Results of Sabang by-poll, an assembly constituency in Paschim Mednipur district, was announced today. In 2016, Congress candidate Manas Bhunia had won the Sabang seat with the support of the left front. The by poll was held because Manas Bhuniya switched to TMC.

The result of this by poll wasn’t unexpected as TMC won with a margin of 49,167 votes. However, a closer look at the results of the constituency, historically, tell a tale of a major shift in voting pattern.

The Sabang constituency has traditionally been a Congress bastion. It saw the rise of Congress in 1982, and has elected a Congress candidate ever since. In 1982, with TMC nowhere in the picture, Congress had started its victory streak with a landslide.

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If we look at the numbers from 1982, Congress candidate Manas Ranjan Bhunia won, by polling 46.9% of the votes. The Trinamool Congress of CPI(M) were not in the electoral picture. Janta Party however polled 2% of the votes.

NamePartyNumber of VotesPercentage of votes
Manas BhuniaCongress34,81546.9%
Hemanta Kumar JanaIndependant34,18546.0%
Suryya Kanta MahapatraJanta Party1,5182.0%

In 1987, Congress maintains its lead with a 50.8% voteshare, with CPI(M) coming in second, with a 43.3% of the pie.

NamePartyNumber of VotesPercentage of votes
Manas Ranjan BhuniaCongress45,37650.8%
Hare Krishna SamantaCPI(M)42,26143.3%
Bhushan Chandra MondalSocialist Unity Centre of India1,3501.50%

In 1991, Manas Ranjan Bhunia of the Congress party wins his third term with 50.7% of the votes. CPI(M) came in second, with a difference of 3,071 votes. BJP made a debut this year with only 1% of the votes amounting to 1028 votes.

NamePartyNumber of VotesPercentage of Votes
Manas Ranjan BhuniaCongress53,48550.7%
Gouranga SamantaCPI(M)50,41447.7%
Jana Nagendra NathBJP1,0281.0%

In 1996, Manas Ranjan Bhunia lost by a narrow margin of 825 votes. The CPI(M) candidate won, and BJP polled a paltry 594 votes (0.5%)

NamePartyNumber of VotesPercentage of Votes
Bangal MakhanlalIndependant60,45349.9%
Manas BhuniaCongress59,62849.2%
Jana NagendranathBJP5940.5%

In 2001, Congress again came second with a narrow margin. As seen, the contest between Congress and CPI(M) has always been a close one. BJP came third with 1409 votes (1.2%).

NamePartyNumber of VotesPercentage of Votes
Tushar Kanti LayaCPI(M)62,61151.2%
Manas Ranjan BhuniaCongress56,35446.0%
Nirmal Kumar BalaBJP1,4091.2%

In 2006, Manas Ranjan Bhunia of Congress regained his bastion and defeated CPI(M). This is the year TMC made inroads in Sarang, coming in third with 4,828 votes (3.5%).

NamePartyNumber of VotesPercentage of Votes
Manas Ranjan BhuniaCongress68,59249.7%
Tushar Kanti LayaCPI(M)62.07945.0%
Amulya MaityTMC4,8283.5%

In 2011, Manas Ranjan Bhunia of Congress won again with 51.3% votes. CPI(M) clocked 44.4% and BJP got 1.3% of the total votes. The TMC and Congress had fought these assembly elections together. They managed to oust CPI(M) from the state but it help maintained some hold in this constituency.

NamePartyNumber of VotesPercentage of Votes
Manas Ranjan BhuniaCongress98,75551.3%
Rampada SahooCPI(M)85,57144.4%
Sabyasachi SahooBJP2,5071.3%

In 2016, which is the last Assembly Elections and the first after BJPs 2014 win, Manas Ranjan Bhunia of Congress got 1,26,987 votes (59.7%), TMC got 77,820 votes (36.6%) and BJP got 5,610 votes, a mere 2.6% vote share. BJP couldn’t break its cycle of low vote share in this constituency, just like anywhere else in the state of West Bengal.

NamePartyNumber of VotesPercentage of Votes
Manas Ranjan BhuniaCongress1,26,98759.7%
Nirmal GhoshTMC77,82036.6%
Kashinath BasuBJP5,6102.6%

With the figures above, it is extremely evident that until 2016, TMC never managed to get a major voteshare in this constituency and the contest was always between Congress and CPI(M). The highest number of votes BJP has ever got in this constituency is 5,610 votes since West Bengal was never a state where the saffron party got much traction.

In 2017, the by polls had to be held in this constituency because Manas Ranjan Bhunia, the Congress candidate who had maintained his strong hold in the constituency since 1982, jumped ship and joined TMC. When Bhunia jumped ship, TMC fielded his wife Gita Rani Bhunia from this constituency, to represent the party. The results are collated below in a table.

NamePartyNumber of VotesPercentage of Votes
Gita Rani BhuniaTMC1,06,17952.12%
Rita MondalCPI(M)41,98720.61%
Antara BhattacharyaBJP37,47618.4%
Chiranjib BhowmickCongress18,0608.9%

It is thus essential to analyse the difference in votes that went to each party from the last assembly elections, keeping in mind that the swing in votes has happened only in the last one year. From 2016 Assembly Elections to 2017 by polls.

PartyVotes in 2016Votes in 2017+/- Difference in votes
Congress1,26,98718,060- (1,08,927)
TMC 77,8201,06,179+ 28,359
CPI(M)NA41,987+ 41,987
BJP5,61037,476+ 31,866

As seen above, Congress is the biggest loser in these by polls. The party lost a whopping 1,08,927 votes from their last tally in 2016. While the popular narrative seems to be that considering Manas Ranjan Bhunia, the then Congress candidate jumped ship to TMC, and his wife was fielded by TMC for these by polls, that all the votes lost by Congress, were transferred to TMC.

From the table above, it is evident that between TMC, CPI(M) and BJP, TMC has gained the least amount of votes since 2016 to now. The votes lost by Congress have been divided between CPI(M), TMC and BJP.

While TMC gained 28,357 votes, even though they fielded the wife of Bhunia, CPI(M) who has also had a strong base in the constituency gained 41,987 votes. The CPI(M) didn’t field a candidate in 2016 since CPI(M) and Congress had fought the 2016 assembly elections together in a bid to arrest the TMCs growing clout in the state. The BJP gained an unprecedented 31,866 votes raising their total from a paltry 2.6% in 2016, to an 18.4% in 2017.

Historically, until 2016, the highest number of votes polled by BJP in Sabang has been 5610 votes. The saffron party saw an upswing to 18.4% while fighting the parties and candidates who have always had an extremely firm hold on this constituency. And while TMC has won with an unprecedented margin in 2017, their vote upswing has been the lowest among the three parties, even after fielding the wife of a historically popular candidate, who won this seat 6 times since 1982 and came in a close second twice.

The analysis is fairly simple. While TMC has won with a huge margin, it has reason to worry. Considering its low upswing in vote from 2016 to 2017, it might have to conclude that there is already an undercurrent of disenchantment among the West Bengal population. And while TMC might need to evaluate its landslide success, BJP, by making massive inroads in just over one year, has reasons to celebrate. The saffron party seems well on its way to becoming the principal opposition in West Bengal if it can keep the momentum up.

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