The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has declared its candidates for exactly two-thirds of Bengal’s 42 Lok Sabha seats and from the look of it, the prospects of about half of them are bright. The three candidates declared so far for North Bengal – Nisith Pramanik for Cooch Behar, John Barla from Alipurduar and Jayanta Ray from Jalpaiguri –are all strong candidates backed by a robust party machinery.
The nomination of Nisith Pramanik, who was the head of Trinamool Yuva (the youth wing of that party) till a few weeks ago and a powerful satrap in that part of the state, has caused a lot of heartburn among a section of local BJP leaders.
These leaders, unhappy over the choice of Pramanik, laid siege to the BJP office in Cooch Behar. But the state party leadership has intervened and is expected to make them fall in line. Pramanik knows the constituency like the back of his hand, and will get many grassroots-level Trinamool activists to work silently for him.
Also, the BJP itself has a strong organisational base in North Bengal (comprising the Cooch Behar, Alipurduar and Jalpaiguri seats and the plains areas of Darjeeling seat) that will help the party candidates in these seats to sail through. The Trinamool is weak in that part of Bengal, and more so after Mukul Roy joined the BJP and brought in lower and mid-ranking activists of his former party.
The adivasis, Rajbongshis and Gorkhas, who form a substantial segment of the electorate in North Bengal, are expected to support the BJP. John Barla (Alipurduar) is an adivasi himself and has a very good rapport with the people. He is a respected social worker and an amiable person who carries all sections of the people with him. Jayanta Ray (Jalpaiguri) is a Rajbonghsi who is also well-known and popular.
The BJP’s prospects in Darjeeling will be very bright if it does not renominate the sitting MP, S S Ahluwalia. Ahluwalia is deeply unpopular among the people in the Hills and even the support of the anti-Trinamool faction of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) will not be able to ensure his victory in the Hills. The Darjeeling seat also comprises areas in the plains of Siliguri which are strongholds of the Trinamool.
The anti-Trinamool faction of the GJM (which is aligned with the BJP hand will support a BJP candidate) has entered into an electoral alliance with another influential hill party – the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) – and that is expected to boost the BJP’s chances. But all depends on who the BJP nominates for this seat; Ahluwalia’s renomination will be disastrous for the party in Darjeeling.
The Raiganj and Balurghat seats in North Bengal present mixed prospects for the BJP. The Trinamool units in these two areas are riven by factionalism and dissidence. A large section of Trinamool leaders in Raiganj are expected to silently support the BJP. Also, thanks to the Trinamool’s policies of minority appeasement, Hindus in these areas have consolidated behind the BJP.
In Balurghat, the Trinamool candidate (Arpita Ghosh, the sitting MP) is not very popular. But for all these factors to translate into support for the BJP, the party cadres have to work very hard and also secure a slice of the minority votes. The BJP candidates in these two seats – Deboshree Choudhury (Raiganj) and Dr Sukanta Majumdar (Balurghat) – enjoy a good reputation.
Khagen Murmu, a former CPI(M) legislator from Habibpur (an assembly segment within Malda North Lok Sabha seat) has been fielded by the BJP from Malda North. This nomination has also caused considerable heartburn among local BJP leaders. But Murmu has a grassroots connect and is popular in some pockets. But taking on the Trinamool’s Mausam Noor (she is the sitting MP and was with the Congress till defecting to the BJP some time ago) will be a tough task for Murmu.
A lot will depend on who the Congress nominates from Malda North; if it fields a cousin of Mausam Noor as it is planning to, it would lead to a division of votes and Murmu’s prospects will get brighter then.
Sreerupa Mitra Choudhury, a prominent social worker and women’s rights activist, has been fielded by the BJP from Malda South. She was with the Trinamool till recently and was even fielded by Mamata Banerjee from Delhi South Lok Sabha seat in 2014 after she was reportedly promised the Malda South seat. This letdown prompted her defection to the BJP. Though she has a good reputation, she faces a tough challenge from the Trinamool and the Congress which are very strong there.
Former Indian goalkeeper Kalyan Chaubey, who has been associated with Mohun Bagan Club for decades, is the BJP candidate for Krishnanagar. The BJP has an organisational base here and this seat was represented by renowned lawyer Satyabrata Mookerjee (BJP) from 1999 to 2004.
Chaubey is a philanthropist, has a clean image and is seen as an earnest, honest and hard-working young man. His popularity cuts across all sections of the electorate. But he has a formidable opponent in Mohua Mitra, the charismatic spokesperson of the Trinamool.
But a large section of the electorate has grown weary of the Trinamool, thanks to Saradha accused Tapas Paul who was the Trinamool MP from this seat for two terms since 2009. Mitra is an outsider and many Trinamool activists owing allegiance to Mukul Roy are expected to support the BJP. Krishnanagar is a winning seat for the BJP.
Former Trinamool strongman Arjun Singh, who joined the BJP a couple of weeks ago, is poised to win the Barrackpore Lok Sabha seat. He is well-known in the constituency and enjoys the support of most of the Hindi-speaking people who form a large chunk of the electorate here. Singh was singularly responsible for the two consecutive wins of Dinesh Trivedi (of Trinamool) from this seat. Though a section of the local BJP leaders and workers are unhappy over the nomination of a defector from the Trinamool, they are expected to fall in line soon.
The BJP’s Basirhat MLA Samik Bhattacharya has been fielded from Dum Dum. The going will be tough for him since the Trinamool is very strong in the area and the municipalities run by the Trinamool have done a lot of work. Though Trinamool’s Saugata Roy (who has represented this constituency since 2009) is facing considerable anti-incumbency and his image has also been somewhat sullied due to his alleged involvement in the Narada scam, he is still strong in the area.
Barasat is another potential win for the BJP, and not the least because the BJP nominee, Dr Mrinal Kanti Debnath, is an excellent choice. Debnath, a physician, is very popular and is well-known for the free clinics he conducts for the poor. He is down-to-earth, easily accessible, is looked up to as incorruptible and is a hard-working person.
What boosts his prospects is the unpopularity of the sitting Trinamool MP Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar (she has been re-nominated), who is looked upon as arrogant, aloof and abusive. Also, a large section of senior Trinamool leaders like Salt Lake mayor Sabyasachi Dutta have become arch-enemies of Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar and will work for the success of the BJP candidate.
The BJP’s Basirhat nominee Sayantan Basu is a lightweight and is pitted against popular filmstar Nusrat Jahan who has been fielded by the Trinamool. Though Basu enjoys a clean image and is hard-working, Jahan’s star value will be tough to beat. The BJP, though, has a considerable support base in Basirhat. The BJP’s candidates in Joynagar (Dr Ashok Kandari) and Mathurapur (Shyamaprasad Halder) don’t stand much of a chance.
The BJP’s nomination of Anupam Hazra, who defected from the Trinamool recently, from the prestigious Jadavpur seat came as a surprise to many. Hazra was the Trinamool MP from Bolpur and not only was his performance as a parliamentarian lacklustre, he also does not have a clean image and reputation. He is pitted against very strong rivals – film star Mimi Chakraborty (Trinamool) and veteran Marxist and former Kolkata Mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya (CPM). Hazra’s prospects, thus, are dim.
The two other prestigious seats – Kolkata North and Kolkata South – present tough challenges for the BJP. Former BJP state president Rahul Sinha is facing Trinamool veteran Sudip Bandopadhyay in Kolkata North. Though Sinha enjoys the support of the trading community, the constituency has a large number of Muslims who are strong supporters of the Trinamool. Chandra Kumar Bose (a member of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose family) is the BJP candidate from Kolkata South where the BJP has made good inroads.
A large section of the electorate in many parts of this constituency have become BJP supporters. Bose, though, has a strong rival in Trinamool’s Mala Ray. Bose is seen as the quintessential ‘bhadralok’ and, thus, can garner the support of the middle-class Bengalis. Many areas of Kolkata South are inhabited by non-Bengalis who are traditional BJP supporters. Thus, though the fight will be tough, Bose’s prospects are pretty fair here.
BJP state Mahila Morcha chief Locket Chatterjee also has a fair chance in Hooghly because of her indefatigable energy. Chatterjee has already hit the ground running and is extremely hard-working, can connect easily with the masses, is seen as a serious contender and enjoys a clean reputation. She is a team person who can carry party workers with her and enthuse them to work earnestly for her. These qualities may see her through in the seat where the Trinamool machinery is very strong, though the Trinamool nominee (Ratna De Nag) is not very popular.
In Serampore, BJP’s Debajit Sarkar is a good candidate and is expected to put up a tough fight against Trinamool’s Kalyan Banerjee. The same goes for the BJP candidates in Arambagh and Tamluk, Tapan Roy and Siddhartha Naskar respectively. But the chances of the BJP bagging any of these three seats is slim.
Ghatal Lok Sabha constituency presents an exciting prospect for the BJP. Former IPS officer Bharati Ghosh who had a fallout with Mamata Banerjee is the party’s candidate in Ghatal, where the Trinamool has re-nominated popular film actor Dipak Adhikari (Dev). Dev is seen as clean, charismatic, down-to-earth and sincere, but has not been able to do much for his constituency due to severe infighting among local Trinamool leaders. Ghosh, on the other hand, has strong connections with the lower-level civil and police machinery which she could use to her advantage. But her past image as a police officer who bent rules to favour the Trinamool and was biased will harm her prospects.
The BJP’s chances in Jhargram are very bright. The party has made very good inroads in this constituency that has a large population of adivasis. The BJP did very well in the panchayat polls held last year. The party’s nominee, Dr Kunar Hembram, enjoys a good and clean reputation and is popular among the masses. Though the Trinamool nominee Birbaha Soren is supported by some adivasi bodies, Hembram is far more popular and respected.
State BJP chief Dilip Ghosh is contesting from Medinipur against the Trinamool’s Manas Bhuniya who was a veteran Congressman. Bhuniya is looked upon as a turncoat and an opportunist, and does not have much work to show for the Assembly seat (Sabang, part of the Medinipur Lok Sabha seat) he has represented for six terms since 1982. Ghosh is a powerful orator, connects well with the masses and has the complete support of the party machinery, something that Bhuniya, a defector, does not. Bhuniya is also not very popular with the masses.
While Babul Supriyo is expected to retain the Asansol seat and ward off the challenge posed by film star of yesteryears Moon Moon Sen (fielded by the Trinamool), it is Birbhum where the electoral battle will be very tough and close. Veteran BJP leader Dudh Kumar Mondal, who is a grassroots-level leader and popular with the masses, has been nominated from Birbhum. Mondal is a down-to-earth person, easily accessible and has been with the party for a very long time. He is a good organiser and knows all the BJP workers and activists in Birbhum personally and commands their total loyalty.
The Trinamool machinery, though, is strong in Birbhum. But Mondal is the perfect candidate to counter the formidable Trinamool machinery. Also, the Trinamool nominee, former film star Satabdi Roy, is seen as an outsider and not a serious candidate. Many workers and supporters of the Trinamool are unhappy over Roy’s candidature.
Another factor that will work in the BJP candidate’s favour is the poor reputation of Trinamool strongman in Birbhum, Anubrata Mondal. The latter is seen as a bully and one who has no qualms in breaking the law. Thus, the middle class has turned against the Trinamool, which is also suffering from serious infighting. All these factors will work in favour of Dudh Kumar Mondal.
Bishnupur sitting MP Saumitra Khan left the Trinamool to join the BJP recently. The BJP has nominated him from the same seat. Though Khan brought along many lower and mid-ranking workers from the Trinamool to the BJP, the Trinamool machinery is still strong in the area. Khan has a fair reputation – he is honest and hard-working and has been fairly successful in ensuring the development of his constituency. But his switch from the Trinamool to the BJP has not only angered many who have remained in the Trinamool and have now vowed to leave no stone unturned to ensure his defeat, he is yet to be accepted by many BJP workers. The electoral battle in Bishnupur could, thus, go either way.
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