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Newsmaker | Arjun Singh, the sulking BJP ‘strongman’ now back in TMC camp

Arjun Singh, who left TMC in 2019, has been critical of the state BJP leadership

Written by Atri Mitra , Sweety Kumari | Kolkata |
Updated: May 23, 2022 8:28:04 am
Arjun Singh is among the biggest leaders to return to the TMC, which they deserted for the BJP ahead of the elections to the Lok Sabha in 2019 and the Assembly in 2021. (Express Photo by Partha Paul)

Ending days of speculation, BJP vice-president and the party’s Barrackpore MP Arjun Singh joined the Trinamool Congress on Sunday — the latest in a long list of BJP leaders to return to the Mamata Banerjee-led party.

Around 4 pm Sunday, Singh drove to Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Abhishek Banerjee’s Camac Street office. Minutes later, the TMC national general secretary extended “a warm welcome” to the Barrackpore MP.

Singh joined the party in the presence of Banerjee and other TMC leaders, including state minister Jyotipriya Mallick and Barrackpore MLA Raj Chakraborty, both leaders from North 24 Parganas, the district to which Singh belongs.

Singh is among the biggest leaders to return to the TMC, which they deserted for the BJP ahead of the elections to the Lok Sabha in 2019 and the Assembly in 2021.

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Within a month of the TMC’s landslide victory in the Assembly election, Mamata’s lieutenant Mukul Roy resigned from the BJP and joined his old party in the presence of the TMC leadership. He was followed by Rajib Banerjee, Joyprakash Majumder, Babul Supriyo, among many others.

However, according to a senior TMC leader, Singh’s homecoming can only be compared to Mukul Roy’s in scale.

“TMC suffered the most when Mukul Roy, Arjun Singh and Shuvendu Adhikari left the party. Mukul has already returned and Arjun joined today. So, it’s a big gain for the TMC and a huge, huge setback for the BJP,” the leader said.

Singh followed his father Satyanarayan Singh, a known Congress worker in Barrackpore, into politics. In 1995, Singh was elected to the Bhatpara municipality on a Congress ticket. But he quit the party and joined Mamata Banerjee, when she left the Congress to set up the TMC in 1998.

Singh’s family originally hails from Siwan of Bihar, a connection that helped him build the TMC organisation in the industrial belt of North 24 Parganas, where most of the voters are Hindi-speaking migrants from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

In 2001, he became TMC MLA from Bhatpara and followed it up with three more wins from the seat. He also headed the TMC’s Hindi wing and was in charge of the party in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Punjab.

Left to right : Minister Jyotipriyo Mallik, Arjun Singh, MLA Partha Bhowmik during a press conference after joining TMC at Camac street in Kolkata. (Express Photo by Partha Paul)

In March 2019, ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, with the BJP seen as a rising force, Singh resigned as TMC MLA and joined the party. His exit proved to be a setback for the TMC, which lost its organisation in the Barrackpore industrial belt and the larger North 24 Parganas. In the elections that year, Singh defeated TMC’s Dinesh Trivedi to be elected BJP MP from Barrackpore.

Seen as a ‘strongman’, Singh has a string of criminal cases against him, including on charges of corruption, attempt to murder, fraud and rioting. In 2020, a year after he joined the BJP, as chairman of Bhatpara Naihati Cooperative Bank, he was accused of sanctioning loans against fake work orders and allegedly siphoning funds. He was later removed as chairman of the bank. The same year, he was booked in an attempt to murder case after Dharmendra Singh, a TMC youth leader, was shot at in Barrackpore. Though Singh was summoned by the state CID and police in many of these cases, he wasn’t arrested. All the cases are under investigation.

Over the last couple of months, Singh has been openly critical of the new BJP leadership in the state, with sources close to him saying he felt sidelined under Sukanta Majumdar, the new state party chief.

He has also been critical of the Centre’s jute price policy, saying the price cap of Rs 6,500 per quintal imposed by the NDA government would affect mill workers and MSMEs in Bengal.

In April, Singh shot off a letter to Union Textiles Minister Piyush Goyal, following which he had a meeting with the minister. Singh had claimed credit when the Jute Commissioner later withdrew the price ceiling. “After sustained pressure, the Jute Commissioner has withdrawn the price cap on raw jute. This is just a step forward in the long movement ahead. There should not be a competition for taking credit. Our sole aim & focus should be the benefits of farmers, workers and the industry,” he had tweeted.

Singh had also met BJP president J P Nadda, after which he said, “Those who don’t understand anything about the organisation are giving sermons. I have told Naddaji everything. Let’s see what happens. The party has given us a chair, but it doesn’t have legs. The party has given us a pen but it has no ink.”

Sources said the U-turn on the jute price cap and the meetings with the Central leadership were an attempt by the BJP to retain an increasingly rebellious Singh in the party.

But that hardly deterred Singh, who continued to hit out at the state leadership. On Sunday, after joining the TMC, he said, “The BJP’s movement is only on social networking platforms. The movement can only be fought at the grassroots.”

But as news of Singh joining the TMC emerged, many pointed out how Mamata Banerjee was not present on the occasion. Also, while Singh joined the party in the presence of Abhishek Banerjee, the TMC national general secretary was not present with Singh during the press conference he addressed subsequently. As a contrast, sources pointed out, Nadda and Union Home Minister Amit Shah were both present when Arjun Singh joined the BJP in 2019.

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