Kolkata, June 5 (IANS) West Bengal's ruling Trinamool Congress Wednesday retained the Howrah Lok Sabha seat, with former international footballer Prasun Banerjee defeating the CPI-M's Sridip Bhattacharya by 27,015 votes.
Banerjee, a famed soccer star of the 1970s and 1980s, obtained 426,273 votes. Bhattacharya, a mechanical engineer-turned-Communist Party of India-Marxist wholetimer, secured 399,258.
The Trinamool now has 19 members in the Lok Sabha.
Congress candidate Sanatan Mukherjee finished a distant third, managing only 96,727 in the June 2 by-election necessitated by the death of Trinamool MP Ambica Banerjee April 25. Banerjee had polled 37,392 votes more than his nearest contender, Swadesh Chakraborty of the CPI-M, in 2009.
Of the seven assembly segments, Banerjee led in five: Shibpur, Bally, Panchla, Howrah Central and Howrah North. Bhattacharya remained ahead in Howrah South and Sankrail.
In the 2011 assembly elections, the Trinamool had won all the seven segments constituting the Lok Sabha seat, maintaining a whopping lead of around 1.85 lakh votes.
The Congress, which was in alliance with the Trinamool in 2009 and 2011, had not put up any nominee in either of the elections.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which had bagged about 37,000 votes in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections and over 55,000 in the assembly polls two years later, opted out of the race after announcing a candidate.
The opposition Congress and the CPI-M have been claiming that the BJP withdrew from the contest to help out the Trinamool, which has vehemently denied the accusation.
While the Trinamool got 44.68 percent of the vote share, the Left Front (LF) got 41.7, and the Congress 10.14 percent.
In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the Trinamool-Congress alliance nominee had collected 48.04 percent votes, while the Left Front got 44.25 percent.
Compared to 2009, the LF's vote share has gone down by about 2.5 percent, while that of the Trinamool and the Congress - who fought separately this time - has risen by 6.78 percent. The BJP had claimed 3.79 percent then.
However, the LF could take heart from the 2011 results, when it got around 37 percent votes, about 4.7 percent less than what it has bagged this time.
On the other hand, the then allies Trinamool and Congress garnered 54.12 percent of the votes two years back. Wednesday's results showed their share has gone up by 0.7 percent to 54.82. The BJP candidates had earned 4.57 percent votes.
Gloating over her party's success, Trinamool chief and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said: "jo jita wo sikandar (the one who wins is the king)" and described the Howrah poll results as a new chapter in West Bengal politics. She also claimed that voters have endorsed her decision to go it alone.
"This is the beginning of a new chapter. Earlier, we fought in alliance with the Congress. But this time we have gone it alone... The people of Howrah have said a resounding yes to us. They have told us 'ekla cholo re'," Banerjee told the media.
Leader of the opposition Surjya Kanta Mishra said the result should be a lesson for the ruling party.
"Despite the terror tactics of the Trinamool, we have gained over 4.5 percent of the vote share. It's high time they realised they cannot continue walking the terror path," said Mishra, a CPI-M politburo member.
The Congress said the Howrah victory was a gift from the BJP to the Trinamool. "The results show the Trinamool has retained the seat. But an analysis shows that the BJP has given a gift to the Trinamool by opting out," said Congress general secretary Shakeel Ahmed.
BJP state president Rahul Sinha said that party's decision to stay away from the by-poll has helped the Trinamool to hold on to the seat. However, he said the reduction in the margin should set the alarm bells ringing in the ruling party.