(EDS: Combines related copies) Kolkata, Nov 28 (PTI) West Bengal's ruling TMC on Thursday bagged all the three assembly seats where bypolls were held recently, trouncing challenger BJP, a victory Mamata Banerjee dubbed as a 'mandate against NRC' and in favour of 'secularism and unity'.
Trinamool Congress candidates won Kaliaganj, Kharagpur Sadar and Karimpur seats with comfortable margins defeating their BJP rivals, prompting a call for 'introspection' over the hugely contentious National Register for Citizens (NRC) by a saffron party candidate who lost.
The TMC's victory, after a lackadaisical performance in the Lok Sabha election, is expected to not only galvanise its workers before the civic body elections due next year and the assembly polls in 2021, but also force the saffron party to revisit its Bengal strategy.
The TMC snatched Kaliaganj and Kharagpur Sadar seats from the Congress and the BJP, and retained Karimpur with a massive margin.
The BJP, which had bagged 18 of the state's 42 Lok Sabha seats barely months ago and hoped to do well in the bypolls, was in for a shock as it drew a blank. The party lost both Kaliaganj and Kharagpur Sadar, where it had taken massive leads in the Lok Sabha polls.
The once mighty CPI-M, which had resurrected its alliance with the Congress, failed to make the cut in both the seats, while acting as a spoilsport for the BJP, which finished second in all the three constituencies.
'We dedicate this victory to the people of Bengal.
This is a victory of secularism and unity, and is a mandate against NRC. The BJP is getting paid back for its arrogance of power and for insulting the people of the state.
'People have rejected the BJP outright. They (the BJP) want to turn legal citizens of the country into refugees and send them to detention centres,' Banerjee told a TV news channel.
BJP's Kamal Chandra Sarkar, who lost the Kaliaganj seat, ascribed the party's defeat to its relentless campaign over replicating the National Register of Citizens (NRC), which was hitherto restricted to Assam, in the entire country.
'There was fear among the people regarding NRC. We failed to make people understand that NRC in Assam was different. NRC is implemented by the Centre and not the BJP as a party. People thought BJP was implementing NRC and this went against us,' he said.
The bypolls were held days after BJP president and Union Home Minister Amit Shah declared in Parliament that the hugely divisive NRC will be implemented in all states.
His pitch for a nation-wide NRC apparently backfired in West Bengal, which has a huge number of bonafide Indian citizens, both Hindus and Muslims, who migrated from East Bengal, now Bangladesh, during Partition and that country's war for independence from Pakistan in 1971.
Millions of refugees from East Pakistan had then been sheltered in India, particularly West Bengal. Many of them are since believed to have settled here permanently and obtained documents to prove their Indian citizenship.
The BJP wants such 'illegal immigrants' out, while Banerjee's TMC, citing humanitarian reasons, insists they were Indian citizens, having lived in the country for decades.
The Karimpur and Kaliaganj seats have sizeable Dalit and Muslim population. Most of the Dalits are the descendants of refugees who had fled to India during Partition and the Bangladesh Liberation War.
They now apprehend loss of Indian citizenship like in neighbouring Assam.
Even as the BJP got a drubbing in the bypolls in West Bengal, the party's Assam strongman Himanta Biswa Sarma spoke about 'huge irregularities' highlighted by the CAG in updating the NRC in his state.
Sarma, a state minister, said he will make public the figure of Hindu Bengalis whose names have not been included in the NRC despite living in Assam for decades. PTI PNT SK SK SK