Mamata Banerjee announced her candidates for 291 of the 294 seats in the West Bengal Assembly on Friday, including a large number of women, young first-timers, professionals, and local celebrities.
Candidates for 160 seats have been changed, and 114 new faces have been included in the list of candidates. Twenty-eight sitting MLAs, including five ministers, have been dropped.
Mamata herself will contest from Nandigram — keeping her promise of returning to the political theatre from where a key road to her march to power began almost a decade and a half ago.
Three Hill seats – Kurseong, Darjeeling, and Kalimpong – will be contested by the TMC’s ally Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM). “Kamtapuri and Rajbanshi leaders have also said that they will support us,” Mamata said.
Fifty of the 291 candidates – about 17 per cent – are women, and 42 (14 per cent) are Muslim. 79 Scheduled Caste candidates (27 per cent) and 17 Scheduled Tribe candidates (6 per cent) have got tickets. “Sixty-eight seats are reserved for SC candidates but we have given tickets to 79,” the Chief Minister said.
In the last Assembly elections of 2016, the party had fielded 45 women, 57 Muslims, 68 SCs, 16 STs.
Finance Minister Amit Mitra, Agriculture Minister Purnendu Bose, Food Processing Industries Minister Rezzak Mollah, North Bengal Development Minister Bachchu Hansda, and MSME Minister Ratna Ghosh Kar have been denied tickets.
At the press conference in Kolkata, Mamata mocked the extraordinary efforts by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah for the BJP in the elections, and sarcastically invited the Election Commission of India, which has announced an eight-phase schedule, to hold the elections “in 294 phases”.
Voting for the first phase will be held on March 27, and for the last phase on April 29. Votes will be counted on May 2, along with those in Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and the Union Territory of Puducherry.
“Khela hobe, dekha hobe, jeta hobe… Khelenge, ladenge, jeetenge (Let the game begin, we will see, we will fight, we will win),” Mamata said.
Taking a dig at the BJP for marshalling huge resources for some 30 public rallies for the Prime Minister, she said, “Ask him (Modi) to do 120 [rallies] with me.”
On the heavy deployment of central forces, Mamata said: “Ask them (the Centre) to send all forces from Kashmir to Kanyakumari to Bengal… Amit Shah should not mistrust the people so much.”
Announcing her own candidature, Mamata said, “I always keep my promises. I will contest from Nandigram… I will go to Nandigram on March 9, and I will file my nomination in Haldia on March 10.”
Bhabanipur, the seat in south Kolkata that she has been representing since 2011, would be contested by Power Minister Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay, MLA from the adjacent Rashbehari seat, while Mayor-in-Council of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, Debashish Kumar, will be the candidate from Rashbehari, Mamata said.
Nandigram is the stomping ground of Suvendu Adhikari, the powerful leader from Medinipur who switched from the TMC to the BJP earlier this year. Should the BJP put Suvendu up to defending his seat, Nandigram, which votes in the second phase on April 1, could see the biggest battle of the election.
“Have faith in me, only the TMC can take Bengal to new heights,” Mamata said after releasing the list of candidates.
Among the celebrities who have been given tickets are actors Sayantika Banerjee (Bankura), Koushani Mukherjee (Krishnanagar North), Chiranjeet Chakraborty (Barasat), Lovely Maitra (Sonarpur South), and Kanchan Mullick (Uttarpara). Cricketer Manoj Tiwary will contest from Shibpur, film director Raj Chakrabarty from Barrackpore, and former IPS officer Humayun Kabir from Debra.
At Singur, another seat closely associated with the TMC’s rise to power, veteran leader Rabindranath Bhattacharya has been dropped; state minister Becharam Manna will contest that seat.
Manna’s wife too has got a TMC ticket, as has Ratna Chatterjee, the former wife of TMC-turned-BJP leader Sovan Chatterjee. Ratna will contest Sovan’s Behala Purba seat.
An interesting candidate is the Dalit author and former rickshaw puller, Manoranjan Byapari, from Balagarh constituency.
Mamata has extraordinarily high stakes in the election. The TMC faces not just the BJP’s massive election machine, but also an alliance of the Left and Congress, which has got a boost after securing the support of the influential cleric Abbas Siddiqui of the Furura Darbar Sharif shrine in Hooghly district.
At the press conference, Mamata thanked Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren, and Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray for extending their support to the TMC.
The denial of tickets to several senior leaders led to protests and criticism within the party. Arabul Islam, MLA from Bhangar, said: “Those who make sacrifices for the party do not get their due, this has become a tradition in the party. The people of Bhangar will answer this injustice.”
Moinuddin Shams, MLA from Nalhati, resigned from the party after his name did not figure in the list of candidates. “The party has rewarded me for not helping its corrupt leaders over the last five years,” he said.
TMC sources in Singur said the son of MLA Rabindranath Bhattacharya had established contact with the BJP. “Mastermoshai (Bhattacharya) has a clean image. TMC will pay a price (for dropping him),” a party leader said.
At the press conference, Mamata said: “We have excluded many names… We will use them in other work for the party. For a mix of new and old faces, we were forced to exclude some names. There were some local problems as well.”
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