In a day of setbacks for the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) in poll-bound West Bengal, five of its MLAs who did not get tickets to contest were inducted into the BJP on Monday. They were joined by Sarala Murmu, who was replaced as the TMC’s candidate from the Habibpur Assembly seat in Malda earlier in the day. A large number of Malda Zilla Parishad members also joined the Opposition camp, causing the ruling party to lose control of the Malda Zilla Parishad.
The TMC MLAs who defected to the saffron party are four-time legislator Sonali Guha, who was a close associate of TMC chairperson Mamata Banerjee for decades; four-time MLA Rabindranath Bhattacharya, who was a prominent face in the Singur anti-land acquisition movement of 2006; Shibpur legislator Jatu Lahiri, Sankrail MLA Sital Sardar and former footballer-turned-MLA Dipendu Biswas, who represents Basirhat Dakshin.
State BJP president Dilip Ghosh, BJP national vice-president Mukul Roy, and senior leader Suvendu Adhikari handed over party flags to the five at the BJP’s Hastings office here. Bengali actor Tanushree Chakraborty was also inducted into the party.
Meanwhile, earlier in the day the TMC replaced Murmu with Pradeep Baskey as its Habibpur candidate. In a statement, the party said, “This is to inform that the candidate for Malda District’s Habibpur Assembly constituency, Sarala Murmu, had to be replaced due to her ill health. Pradeep Baskey will be contesting the upcoming Assembly Elections from this constituency.”
Hours later, Murmu joined the BJP at an event in Kolkata. “I have decided to join the BJP as I was not given the seat I desired. I am fully fit and there are no health issues,” she said.
In an Assembly by-election in 2019, BJP leader Joyel Murmu had won Habibpur, receiving over 50 per cent votes. Sources said Sarala Murmu was not confident about winning the constituency due to the BJP’s strong presence in the region. According to them, she expressed a desire to contest from the Old Malda constituency, but the TMC did not heed her request.
Following the induction of the former TMC leaders, Dilip Ghosh told reporters, “We have not given them any condition to join our party. We have not made any promise that we will make them our candidates for election. They have joined our party as they want to work for the people through the BJP and within a democratic system. We welcome anyone showing interest to join the party. All are very experienced politicians and the party will immensely benefit from their contributions.”
He added, “Their roles in the party will be decided later. Right now, the focus is to strengthen the party and expand our reach.”
In response, TMC MP Saugata Roy said, “They have no ideological stand and that’s why they left the party. They only want something in return from the party and therefore defected to the rival camp for political gains. If anyone wants to work for the people then they can do so without hoping for any gains.”
On March 5, hours after the TMC released its candidate list, Sonali Guha broke down before the media, accusing Mamata Banerjee of betraying her. The TMC has fielded Mohan Chandra Naskar from her Satgachia seat in South 24 Paraganas district. According to sources, Guha spoke to BJP leader Mukul Roy after being denied a ticket.
Rabindranath Bhattacharya, 88, also expressed disappointment after the party did not field him citing its new policy of not allowing candidates above 80 years to contest the polls because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Jatu Lahiri, who is 80 years old, quit the TMC after being dropped from the candidate list. “It’s not about me not getting the ticket but those who entered the party two to three days before have given tickets. If the party doesn’t need me, it’s time to move on,” Lahiri told the media after resigning.
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