The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has fielded more than 850 Muslim candidates — its highest so far in West Bengal — for the upcoming rural elections which will be held on May 14. In 2013, the BJP had less than 100 Muslim candidates contesting in the previous rural elections.
State BJP president Dilip Ghosh told PTI, the party would have fielded more than 2,000 minority candidates had the nomination process been peaceful. “Our party has expanded its base in Bengal by leaps and bounds and Muslims too think that BJP believes in development of all. We are running the government at the Centre and in more than 20 states, Muslims are living in peace and there are no problems.”
The party will repeat this strategy in 2019 general election, depending on the winnability of the candidates, Ghosh said. “We will not give tickets because of religion or caste but only on the criteria of ‘winnability’,” he said.
The ruling TMC, however, discounted BJP’s minority outreach plan and asserted that they continue to have faith in party chief Mamata Banerjee. “The minorities have full faith in us. The BJP is giving nominations to minorities and are fuelling riots in the state,” senior TMC leader Partha Chatterjee said.
Bengal BJP Minority Morcha president Ali Hossain told PTI, “It is obvious that in a state like West Bengal where the Muslim population is near about 30 per cent, we have to reach out to the minorities. The minority community too has realized that BJP is no longer their enemy as projected by TMC and other parties.”
Citing the 2016 assembly polls when the BJP had fielded only 6 Muslim candidates out of its list of 294 nominees, a senior BJP leader said “It is a major shift in party’s political strategy where it is fielding more Muslim candidates.”
Party sources told PTI that former TMC leader Mukul Roy, who is now in the BJP, played an important role in selection of candidates and ensuring that the party has higher number of Muslim candidates in the polls.
Roy had wooed dissidents of TMC and Left to join the party and contest on its symbol, a senior BJP leader said. According to Hossain, Muslim candidates have been fielded mostly in areas where their population is high. The party had fielded a maximum number of Muslim nominees in Murshidabad, Malda, Uttar Dinajpur, South Dinajpur, Birbhum and South 24 Parganas, he said. The BJP has now emerged as the second larges party after the ruling TMC in the number of candidates fighting the upcoming rural polls.
According to West Bengal SEC (State Election Commission) sources, of the 48,650 seats in 3,358 gram panchayats, 16,814 were uncontested and of the 9,217 seats in 341 panchayat samitis, 3,059 were uncontested.
In the 20 Zilla Parishads, 203 of the 825 seats were uncontested, they said. The election to the remaining seats will be held on May 14.
After the withdrawal of candidature, the final list of BJP candidates in Zilla Parishad is 629, while in the Panchayat Samiti the party has 5218 candidates. In Gram Panchayat, the BJP has 23,445 candidates.
“TMC and Left used to treat us as a votebank. But BJP believes in development for all,” said Reshma Parveen a BJP candidate from Coochbehar district.
The panchayat polls in the state will play a significant role in setting up the stage for the general elections next year. The BJP has time and again said that for them West Bengal was a focus state in the next Parliamentay polls.
(With PTI inputs)