Kolkata: The Howrah Lok Sabha by-elections to be held in the shadow of Saradha chit fund scam will be a litmus test for the Mamata Banerjee government's popularity and for the Congress and the CPI (M) to gauge their standing in West Bengal prior to the 2014 general elections.

The Trinamool Congress has fielded former India football captain Prasun Banerjee, the Congress a lawyer Sanatan Mukherjee and CPI (M) Dip Bhattacherjee, a former party Howrah district secretary, while the BJP has opted out following instructions from the party president Rajnath Singh for the June 2 by-polls.

The winner of the by-polls is also likely to have a bearing in the panchayat polls due to be held in three phases in early July. In 1999, when the TMC contested the poll in tie-up with the BJP, the TMC won the seat by 6,535 votes or 0.64 percent votes.

In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP bagged 37,723 votes in the seat, which was 3.8 percent of the total votes polled. The BJP received 4.5 percent of votes in seven assembly segments of the Lok Sabha seat in 2011 when the TMC won in 15 of the 16 seats and Congress in one, with the Left Front defeated in all constituencies.

Analysts felt that the BJP’s withdrawal from the Howrah by-polls could prove to be an electoral gain for Mamata Banerjee’s party and triggering speculation that the party wanted to keep its door ajar for TMC in 2014.

For the Congress, the elections will be an acid test to determine its strength since the TMC quit the UPA in September last year. "We are hopeful that we will win the seat," said WBPCC Chief Pradip Bhattacharya and added that Sanatan Mukherjee was a very good candidate with a clean image.

The Saradha Group scam has become a major campaign issue with the contesting parties accusing each other. While the TMC blamed the CPI (M) for the mushrooming of the chit fund companies during the Left Front tenure, the Marxist coalition blamed the TMC for the ruin of many who had invested in ponzi schemes during its two year rule.

The by-elections have been necessitated by the death of Trinamool Congress leader Ambika Banerjee who had defeated Swadesh Chakraborty of CPI (M) by 37,392 votes in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls.


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