India, June 5 -- The Trinamool Congress has retained the Howrah Lok Sabha constituency, with the ruling party candidate Prasun Banerjee defeating the his nearest rival Sridip Bhattacharya of the CPI(M) by 27,015 votes.
The polls would come as a shot in the arm for the ruling party that was up against the twin factors of a triangular fight and the Saradha meltdown effect.
Reacting to the outcome, chief minister Mamata Banerjee emphasised that the results proved that they can move ahead with the "ekla cholo" policy.
"This is a new episode. This is new poll arithmetic. The results showed that we can win on our own. Earlier we had an alliance with Congress. But this time Congress, CPI(M) and even the BJP, which fielded unofficial candidates, fought against us. We will sweep the upcoming panchayat polls," said Mamata Banerjee at Writers' Building.
However, there was an erosion of margins for the winner. In 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the Trinamool candidate had won by a margin of about 37,000 votes. If the margins in the seven assembly constituencies that make up the Lok Sabha constituency were counted in the 2011 assembly polls, Trinamool was ahead by a whopping 1.87 lakh votes.
Moreover, to send an overture to the Trinamool Congress before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP withdrew its candidate Ashim Ghosh. It could have contributed to the win as BJP secured about 50,000 votes in the 2011 assembly votes from the seven assembly constituencies that constitute Howrah Lok Sabha constituency.
Despite the loss, there is a silver lining for the CPI(M) in the results. The CPI(M) candidate polled more votes than the Trinamool rival in two assembly constituencies - Howrah South and Sankrail. In 2011, Trinamool candidates won all the seven constituencies.
"The results are not at all disappointing for us. We congratulate the people of Howrah who tried to resist the ruling party to the extent possible," remarked leader of the opposition in West Bengal assembly Suryakanta Mishra.
The polls were held on June 2. The turnout was a low 67%. The seat was vacated after octogenarian Trinamool MP Ambica Banerjee died on April 25.
Though a mere bypoll, the Howrah Lok Sabha seat held immense significance for politics in Bengal. It was a test of whether, and to what extent, the ruling Trinamool Congress could hold its ground in a triangular contest.
This was also the first polls in Bengal after the Saradha scam exploded in the state in mid-April imperiling millions of common depositors and hundreds of crores of their hard-earned savings.
The polls were so politically important that chief minister Mamata Banerjee went to Howrah to campaign four times. CPI(M) too fielded its star campaigners such as politburo members Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Biman Bose and Suryakanta Mishra.
All the candidates of the principal parties, Trinamool, CPI(M) and Congress were first time contestants.
Howrah is a 500-year old urban agglomeration on the eastern bank of the Hooghly river and is best known for unplanned, densely populated habitation, one of the country's biggest rail terminuses and a rusty manufacturing sector, especially iron foundries.
Howrah also has a considerable Hindi-speaking population.
Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.