All eyes on Ballygunge as voters get ready for the big fight

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Loudspeakers are no longer blaring and the colourful processions have gone off the streets. Its now left to the jury — the voters of the Ballygunge Assembly Constituency — to elect a winner in the bypolls to be conducted on Tuesday.

Gamblers have placed their bets on the Trinamool Congress, no doubt, but political observers refuse to hazard a guess on whether it will be a clean sweep by the ruling party or a hard-fought battle.

While there is speculation on whether Babul Supriyo of the Trinamool will be able to fill in the shoes of the late Subrata Mukherjee, who holds the record of winning this Assembly constituency for a record number of times, people are also keeping a watch on Left Front candidate Saira Shah Halim of the CPI-M.

Saira may just emerge the dark horse, a few say. Actually, she has nothing to lose. In 2021, her husband Fuad Halim had managed to secure barely 5.61 per cent votes for the CPI-M.

But then, Fuad had been contesting against Mukherjee who ended up with a vote share of 70.60 per cent. What had been most disturbing for the CPI-M in 2021 was not the vote share alone but the fact that the party had ended up in third position with the BJP in second.

Even if Saira, an activist who has been vocal against what she believes are anti-minority and communal politics of the BJP government at the Centre, manages to increase the party’s vote share and take it to the second position, she will leave her mark on Bengal’s political map.

But what are the things that can work in Saira’s favour? First and foremost is the fact that Babul Supriyo is no Subrata Mukherjee and there is considerable discontent among local Trinamool leaders about him getting the ticket.

The constituency’s minority voters may also not forget that Supriyo was a BJP MP not so long ago. If the BJP succeeds in holding on to its vote share of 20-21 per cent and the Congress gets 17-18 per cent, it could end up being a great fight.

“The happenings at Bogtui and the CBI probe ordered by the Calcutta High Court will certainly play on the minds of the voters. Saira’s background will also attract the educated middle class,” a political analyst said.

Saira is the daughter of Lt Gen Zameer Uddin Shah, who retired as a Deputy Chief of Army Staff and went on to become the Vice Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University.

She is also the niece of actor Naseeruddin Shah. Both Naseerudin and his wife Ratna Pathak Shah have urged voters in Ballygunge to support her through video messages during the campaign.

The actor holds a special place in the hearts of most middle-aged Bengalis. Saira’s father, who served for many years in Kolkata as General Officer Commanding, Bengal Area, has stayed away from seeking any support for her.

He only tweeted: “Saira has her own accomplishments and doesn’t lean on parental crutches. I support her independent attitude.”

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