Riding on a wave of new inductions from rival parties, the BJP is now posed with an unique set of problems in West Bengal. Brewing displeasure and the renewed old-timer-newcomer debate has landed the world’s largest party in a rare dilemma, forcing the candidature of many of its Members of Parliament in the upcoming assembly election.
The recent candidates’ list for the third and fourth phases of Bengal elections featured three sitting Lok Sabha MPs – Union Minister Babul Supriyo, Locket Chatterjee, and Nisith Pramanik – and one Rajya Sabha MP, Swapan Dasgupta, besides hordes of Bengali television and movie stars.
This seems to be a tactic to avoid the old-timer-newcomer debate in the context of giving election tickets in view of the large-scale migration from TMC and the other parties to the saffron camp. There have been multiple voices of dissent over the joining of the ‘old rivals’, increasing factionalism in the saffron party’s Bengal unit.
The latest voices of dissent came right after BJP general secretary Arun Singh announced the names of 63 candidates for the third and fourth phases, slated to be held on April 6 and 10. The announcement was followed by protests by leaders since they were ignored even though a considerable number of newcomers were accommodated.
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Notably, even in election-bound Assam, such dissidence was witnessed after the BJP had released its candidates’ list. However, the party had successfully doused the rebel voices for the time in the northeastern state. It remains to be seen if it can solve the Bengal maze in a similar way. The BJP is yet to announce candidates for four remaining phases in the state.
It would be rather embarrassing to say that the BJP, despite benefitting from the rival camp desertions, is lacking suitable faces for the elections, as has been claimed by Trinamool MP Mahua Moitra. She has mocked the BJP for being the “largest global political party” and not being able to declare all their candidates at once.
Why an Union minister in a state battle?
The fielding of Babul Supriyo, Union Minister of state for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, from Tollyganj constituency is an unique case, the reason for which is a very wild speculation that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who’s contesting from Nandigram, may decide to file her second nomination from this (Tollyganj) constituency.
The speculations were fuelled by reported internal discussions of the party that the chief minister may opt for a second safe seat as she won’t be able to aggressively campaign due to the injuries she suffered at a recent rally. She had also said she may opt for a second seat, like Tollyganj, while releasing her party’s candidates’ list last month.
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Singer Supriyo’s choice for Tollyganj remains obvious as the south Kolkata locality has been the hub of the Bengali film and television industry, dotted with studios, though the BJP had recently inducted a crowd of prominent film stars including Mithun Chakraborty and Rudranil Ghosh, among others.
However, the chances of Mamata filing nomination from Tollyganj look bleak as State Minister Aroop Biswas is her party’s heavyweight candidate who has represented the Tollyganj seat for three full terms since 2006. Opposing them is Sanjukta Morcha’s CPI(M) candidate Debdut Ghosh, an actor.
BJP vs BJP
The BJP is facing internal heat over its candidate’s list; much of it in public. The induction of new members, mostly from rival camps, has created two factions in BJP with the old-timers not being able to swallow the candidature of the newcomers in many places.
In state capital Kolkata, barricades were broken at BJP’s Hastings office while top leaders, including MP Arjun Singh and Mukul Roy, were surrounded by the protesters. The party’s district level office-bearers have also raised allegations of seats being sold for money.
Public protests had erupted in Alipurduar after economist Ashok Lahiri, former chief economic advisor to the Indian government, was named a candidate from the constituency. So much so that the saffron leaders there openly asserted they don’t know who Lahiri is.
In Hooghly’s Singur constituency, once the hotbed of protests against Tata’s plan to build a Nano factory, the saffron camp’s decision to field TMC deserter Rabindranath Bhattacharya, 89, led to BJP workers locking up its party functionaries for several hours. Bhattacharya had crossed over to the BJP after TMC didn’t give him a ticket.
The candidature of newcomer actor Tanushree Chakraborty also led to protests in the Shyampur constituency of Howrah while angry party workers ransacked a party office in Panchla (Howrah) over the candidature of TMC turncoat Mohitlal Ghanti.
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Former Bishnupur MLA and ex-minister Shyamaprasad Mukherjee, who shares name with the Jana Sangh founder and had crossed over to BJP claiming he was mentally tortured by the TMC, was also not given ticket by BJP, following which he had tried to even meet the chief minister apparently over returning to her fold, but in vain. He even alleged that to become a BJP candidate one has to pay ₹3.5 crore.
Journalist Rantidev Sengupta, fielded from Howrah Dakshin assembly seat, had expressed his unwillingness to contest in the assembly election, but changed his stand after talks with the BJP leadership.
The list continues.
In the BJP’s response, party MP Arjun Singh said a report would be sent to the top leadership while state BJP spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya tried to play this down as a few isolated incidents, saying that such incidents are common when a party expands.
Bet on star power
One of the biggest casualties of BJP’s bet on star power was its leader Sovan Chatterjee, a TMC turncoat who was denied a ticket from his Behala East seat which he had won in both 2011 and 2016. Feeling humiliated, Sovan and his close companion Baisakhi Banerjee quit the BJP which they had joined in 2019.
Sovan’s estranged wife, Ratna Chatterjee, is in the fray from the constituency on a TMC ticket. By denying Sovan a ticket from Behala East, BJP avoided a direct battle between the former couple who had a bitter fallout over Baisakhi in 2018-19, which had become a major television topic, leading to spilling of personal issues out in public.
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The BJP’s bet from Behala East is actor Payel Sarkar, who had recently joined the party. Pitting Sovan against his estranged wife would have been risky and taken the electoral fight to a personal level and induced sympathy votes in favour of TMC, smelling which the BJP wisely played its star card, risking the seat to the actor’s star power if nothing at all.
The BJP is also fielding actor Yash Dasgupta from Chanditala, where he will be facing sitting TMC MLA Swati Khandoker and former CPI(M) Lok Sabha MP Md. Salim. The segment has seen the TMC maintaining a comfortable winning margin in both 2016 (Vidhan Sabha) and 2019 (Lok Sabha) elections, with Dasgupta too needing to fall back on his star power to win the electorate.