Mamata holds meeting over Sagardighi bypoll defeat, reshuffle Muslim cell leaders
In the meeting, Banerjee blamed organisational weakness and sabotage by a section of leaders for the defeat in recent bypolls and replaced Haji Nurul Islam and appointed youth leader Mosaraf Hossain as the unit’s new president
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Friday made significant changes in the organisational setup of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and pulled up three Muslim leaders for the party’s recent defeat in the Sagardighi assembly bypoll in Murshidabad district where the minority community comprises 66.28 % of the population, the state’s highest.
On Friday, the chief minister during a closed-door meeting held at her south Kolkata residence with party legislators and MPs decided to reshuffle minority cell leaders, people familiar with the matter said.
The meeting was also held to formulate a strategy for the upcoming panchayat polls and the 2024 Lok Sabha contest, they said. The state had on March 6, also constituted a committee to investigate the Sagardighi defeat.
In the meeting, Banerjee blamed organisational weakness and sabotage by a section of leaders for the defeat in recent bypolls and replaced Haji Nurul Islam and appointed legislator Mosaraf Hossain as the unit’s new president.
Addressing the media, Lok Sabha member Sudip Bandopadhyay said: “President of the TMC’s minority cell Haji Nurul Islam has been made chairman of the cell. Legislator Mosaraf Hossain is the new president.”
“Nobody should conclude that Muslims are not supporting us. Mamata Banerjee is still the only leader acceptable to all communities. A committee is probing the Sagardighi results,” Bandopadhyay added.
In the Sagardighi assembly bypolls, Left-backed Congress candidate Bayron Biswas secured 47.35% votes while TMC’s share dropped to 34.94%. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came third with only 13.94% of votes.
This is being seen by a section of TMC leaders as a sign of erosion in their minority vote bank as in 2021, the TMC lost the Bhangar constituency assembly polls in South 24 Parganas where Muslims comprise around 67% of the population.
In her first reaction to the Sagardighi results announced on March 2, Banerjee told the media that the oppositions Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Congress and Left formed an “unholy alliance” to defeat TMC.
On March 6, Banerjee formed a committee of Muslim legislators and ministers to probe the cause of the defeat. The committee is headed by minister Siddiqullah Chowdhury, president of the Jamiat Ulema–e–Hind’s Bengal unit. Minister of state Sabina Yashmin, a legislator from the adjoining Malda district, which has Bengal’s second-highest Muslim population of 51.27%, is part of the committee.
On Friday, Bandopadhyay said: “It has been decided at the meeting that Siddiqullah Chowdhury will be in charge of the TMC’s organisational affairs in Murshidabad and Malda from now on.”
This responsibility was earlier entrusted to district observers but the chief minister abolished that post before the 2021 state polls. Banerjee did not ignore other districts where Muslims comprise a sizeable chunk of the population in multiple pockets.
A TMC leader said on condition of anonymity that Banerjee pulled up two more Muslim leaders and alleged that they not only ignored their duties but were in touch with state Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, a Lok Sabha member from Murshidabad at the time of bypolls.
In the meeting, the selection of candidates for the Sagardighi seat was also discussed, people said.
In a parallel development, Dibyendu Majumdar, deputy block land records officer at Sagardighi and Surajit Chatterjee, local block development officer, were among 50 state administrative officers who got transferred on Friday, state officials said.
On March 9, Bholanath Pandey, superintendent of police (SP), Jangipur district, which is part of the Sagardighi constituency, was transferred alongside 50 other police officers.
TMC spokesperson Jay Prakash Majumdar said the transfers have nothing to do with politics. “These are routine transfers. Our political rivals should stop giving political interpretations to each and every administrative decision,” Majumdar said.
Friday’s decisions were not the first ones the TMC leadership took to reach out to Muslim voters.
Days after losing the Sagardighi assembly bypoll, on March 7, the party replaced minister and Kolkata Mayor Firhad Hakim, with Tapan Dasgupta, a three-time legislator from Hooghly, as chairman of the district’s Furfura Sharif Development Authority.
Whereas Hakim was given the charge of Howrah, Hooghly and North Dinajpur districts, finance minister Chandrima Bhattacharya, who also attended the meeting, said.
Meanwhile, Muslim leaders are seeing this as a damage control exercise by the TMC following the January 21 arrest of Indian Secular Front (ISF) leader Nawsad Siddique, Bengal’s only Muslim opposition MLA who won the Bhangar seat in 2021.
Nawsad Siddique was in the police and judicial custody for 39 days after being arrested in Kolkata and charged under non-bailable sections of the Indian Penal Code, including 307 (attempt to murder), for a clash his supporters had with the police after they were stopped from holding a rally.
He was granted bail by a court on March 2, the day the Sagardighi poll results were announced.