As the battleground for the West Bengal Assembly elections 2016 has been set, we list the top candidates who matter in the upcoming election. The 2016 polls is being seen as a litmus test for not only the ruling Trinamool Congress but also for the Opposition CPI(M) and the nascent BJP. Mamata Banerjee-led government’s first five years in office has been tumultous, under the shadow of the multi-crore Saradha scam, recurring assault cases against women and bouts of communal violence in the state’s north.
As the Congress is yet to announce is list of candidates from each constituency, we list names from the Left Front, TMC and the BJP.
Mamata Banerjee, Trinamool Congress: In 2011, Trinamool Congress supremo and West Bengal Chief Minister had won the Assembly election in a bypoll defeating CPI(M)’s Nandini Mukherjee by a mammoth margin of over 50, 000 votes. Banerjee emerged as a prudent leader who not only ended the Left Front’s 34 year rule in the state but also portrayed herself as an ‘icon of change’ in the state. In the backdrop of the controversial land deal between the state of West Bengal and the Tata Motors in Singur, Banerjee rose to power with her pro-farmer approach. This year’s election will certainly be a test for her leadership and capabilities as a leader and not as a force driving the opposition. As the BJP, Congress and the Left Front unanimously have been urging for a ‘TMC-free’ Bengal, it re-affirms her importance and strength in the race.
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Banerjee will be contesting from Bhabanipur, an urban constituency in south Kolkata, a stronghold of her party. The Left Front and the Congress have not put out candidates yet but there are reports that they would support the candidature of retired Justice Ashok Kumar Ganguly as an independent. However, in a tactical move, the BJP has fielded Chandra Kumar Bose, grand-nephew of Subash Chandra Bose to most likely en-cash the Netaji sentiment of the Bengalis.
Madan Mitra, Trinamool Congress: The former transport and sports minister of the state, Madan Mitra had hit the national headlines for his alleged links in the Saradha chit fund scam. The tainted MLA from Kamarhati will be contesting from the same constituency this year behind the bars. Mitra had won from his seat in 2011 as well by bagging 57.96 per cent of the votes. He had defeated CPI(M)’s Manas Mukhopadhyay. While announcing the TMC list last week, Mamata Banerjee referring to Mitra and said, “once an MLA, will remain an MLA”.
The CBI, investigating the Saradha Scam pleaded a Kolkata court to reject Mitra’s bail plea citing him as a ‘influential’ person. It is this influence, which the Trinamool hopes would allow the party to keep its winning stride intact despite charges of conspiracy and money siphoning that Mitra faces.
Partha Chaterjee, Trinamool Congress: At present, when the JNU row and Rohith Vemula suicide have been grabbing attention from all sectors and creating a huff against Union HRD Minister Smriti Irani, the 2014 ‘hokkolorob’ movement by the students and teachers of Jadavpur University had created a major ripple too. The police atrocity against the varsity students in the wee hours after midnight had received strong criticism against the state government and the incumbent education minister of the state. As the protest became a major tussle between the students and the state authorities, Chatterjee gained importance in the state. But even before the movement, Chatterjee had been the Leader of Opposition in Vidhan Sabha from 2006-2011. He has also won from the Behala Paschim constituency seat since 2001 and hopes to win this year too.
Surjya Kanta Mishra, CPI(M): A veteran Left leader, Mishra has been winning from the Narayangarh constituency for over a decade. Even in the turmoil times of 2011 assembly election, Mishra was among the 43 candidates who won for the Left Front. Currently the Leader of Opposition, he served as Minister of Health and Minister in-charge of Land and Land Reforms, Panchayats & Rural Development in the Left Front governments of West Bengal. Known for his calmness and strategic oratory, he is one of the most respected politicians in Bengal across the political arena.
Abdur Razzak Mollah, Trinamool Congress: A seasoned politician and the face of Muslims in rural Bengal, Mollah was ousted from the CPI(M) in 2014, for his alleged anti-party activities. He was elected from the Canning Purba seat from 1977 to 2011. He was one of the few ministers who had retain their seat in the 2011 elections. Last week, seeking to reinforce its minority vote-bank ahead of the Assembly polls, the Trinamool Congress inducted the expelled CPI(M) leader. However, Mollah will not contest from his sturdy fort this year. The TMC has fielded him from Bhangar in south 24 parganas this year. Interestingly, the Bhangar seat is considered a stronghold of former MLA Arabul Islam who had been allegedly involved in an attack on Mollah in 2013.
Bhaichung Bhutia, Trinamool Congress: The former Indian football team captain will be contesting from Siliguri in Darjeeling district. Bhutia is a current player with East Bengal and has been a household name for football buffs in the state. Bhutia had lost in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections when he contested on a TMC ticket. Mamata has fielded the star footballer in a strategic seat to connect better with the terrain region of the state in the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GOJAM) bastion. The separatist GOJAM party had won 3 seats out of 6 in the Darjeeling district in 2011. A CPI(M) stronghold since 1977, the seat went to TMC’s Rudra Nath Bhattacharya in 2011. The ruling party hopes to win the crucial seat with Bhutia’s popularity.
Joy Banerjee, BJP: Trying his luck from the Suri Assembly constituency is popular Bengali actor Joy Banerjee who will be fighting on a BJP ticket. The seat falls in Birbhum district, a stronghold of the Trinamool Congress and the contest would be one to watch out for. The seat was won by TMC’s Swapan Kanti Ghosh in 2011 by a large margin of nearly 20,000 votes. But the ruling party has desisted from fielding their sitting MLA. Banerjee had courted controversy in September last year saying that the Election Commission was in the hands of the BJP, which led to severe criticism for the party.
Debasree Roy, Trinamool Congress: The actor-turned-politician will be contesting from Raidighi, a seat from where is a sitting MLA. The popular Tollywood actress was part of the Mamata’s ‘change-barricade’ during the 2011 assembly election. Roy will again lock horns with her erstwhile competitor Kanti Ganguly of the CPI(M). Though the margin was around 5,500 votes in the last election, it is being considered as one of the seats where the Left Front can win back this year.
Locket Chatterjee, BJP: The Tollywood actor will be contesting from Mayureswar on a BJP ticket. A former member of the TMC and once a close associate of Mamata Banerjee, she had joined BJP citing the dissent in the party over the Saradha scam. Along with Roopa Ganguly, Chatterjee has been the popular face of BJP in the state. Mayureswar, a stronghold of the CPI(M) even in 2011 debacle, will see new members contesting from all three parties — BJP, CPI(M) and TMC.
Vaishali Dalmiya, Trinamool Congress: Daughter of late BCCI chief Jagmohan Dalmiya, Vaishali will be making her electoral debut from Bally constituency in Howrah district on a Trinamool Congress ticket. Her candidacy has led to rumours that Saurav Ganguly, ex-India captain and president of the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB), might campaign for her. Bally is a seat that was held for years by the CPI(M) until it was won by the Trinamool in 2011. CPI(M) has fielded Anjan Bera in the constituency against Dalmiya.