OF THE 282 candidates announced by the BJP so far for Assembly polls in West Bengal, 46 are those who joined the saffron party less than two years ago after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. A bulk of them — 34 candidates — are from the Trinamool Congress, six from the CPM, four from Congress and one each from Forward Bloc and Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM).
The selection of candidates has led to large-scale protests across the state in almost every district, and the anger that has manifested itself in the streets is not just for having given tickets to those who joined the BJP recently. Infighting within the BJP has also sparked protests after the release of the list.
Of the 46 candidates who have joined the party over the last two years, 36 joined the BJP in just the last six months, a key reason why old times and party workers are upset.
While protests against the ‘turncoat’ candidates erupted in 20 constituencies, those against own party candidates, have broken out in 25 constituencies.
Disgruntled with the ticket distribution, five old timers have quit the BJP since the release of lists, and some others threatened to quit if announced candidates were not changed. Under pressure from its district leaders, the party was forced to change its candidate in one seat. Noted economist and former Chief Economic Advisor Ashok Lahiri was replaced by Suman Kanjilal in Alipurduar seat in north Bengal.
Till date BJP has released names of its candidates in 282 number of seats out of 294, while left one seat (Baghmundi) in Purulia district to its alliance partner AJSU.
“There are only 294 seats in Bengal. We cannot give tickets to everyone. Some will get it and others will not. We have to accept this. Those who are vandalising party offices, tearing up posters and setting things on fire cannot be a member of any political party. We do not approve such behaviours and we strongly condemn it,” said BJP spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya.
The candidate list for the first two phases which included districts like Purulia, Bankura, East and West Midnapore saw no protest. Later on March 14, BJP released its second list and it opened a can of worms. Party workers from Hooghly, South 24 Parganas and Howrah districts staged a protest outside BJP office in Hastings area of the city to demand a change in the candidates.
BJP leader and TMC defector Sovan Chatterjee and his associate Baishakhi Banerjee quit the saffron party after both were denied tickets. Chatterjee was expecting to be fielded from Behala Purba, which he had won in 2011 and 2016 as a TMC MLA. It was learnt that Chatterjee, in a letter to West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh, said he and Banerjee no longer wished to remain in the party. In a Facebook post, Banerjee said she felt “humiliated” and said “conspiracies and treachery” would not last long.
Senior party leaders Shiv Prakash, Mukul Roy and Arjun Singh were heckled by a section of irate party workers who were demanding change in party candidates of several Assembly seats. Angry party workers even tried to break into the party office but were stopped by police.
In fact, the protests forced Union Home Minister Amit Shah to change his schedule as he flew down to Kolkata from Guwahati on Monday to hold talks with party leaders.
On March 18, as BJP released its list of 157 candidates, protests spread in almost all districts of the state.
Meanwhile, Sikha Mitra, who is the wife of late state Congress president Somen Mitra, said she was surprised to find her name in the BJP candidate list. Mitra has been named as a BJP candidate from Chowringhee constituency in Kolkata. Mitra said she never wanted to contest the election and expressed no desire to join the BJP. Meanwhile, Tarun Saha, the husband of outgoing TMC MLA from Kashipur-Belgachia Mala Saha, expressed surprise after his name featured in the BJP candidate list from his wife’s constituency.
For instance, in Hooghly district protests broke out in Chuchura, Haripal, Singur, Uttarpara and Saptagram Assembly seats immediately after the names were announced. Former Hooghly district BJP president Subir Nag quit politics after being denied a ticket. Similarly, several leaders such as Raj Kamal Pathak, Sourav Sikdar and others also quit the party in protest.
BJP gave ticket to Rabindranath Bhattacharya, 89, four-time TMC MLA who was denied a ticket by the ruling party for his age.
In Uttarpara seat, party candidate Prabir Ghosal has not only faced protests from a section of workers but party leader Krishna Bhattacharya has threatened to stand as an independent candidate in the seat. Debabrata Biswas in Saptagram and Samiran Mitra in Haripal faced similar protests.
In Nadia district, protests broke out in Ranaghat Uttar Paschim, Kalyani, Chakdah and Haringhata seats. In Chakdah, a section of workers ransacked the party’s election office and put up a road blockade. Workers protested against Bankim Chandra Ghosh, a former CPM leader who is a resident of Haringhata. In Karimpur, BJP placed Samarendra Ghosh who too is from CPM.
Protests by workers were also seen in Kalyani where they alleged that candidate Ambika Roy, an advocate, spends most of the time in Delhi. On Friday, workers ransacked BJP party office in Kalyani, took out the furniture and set fire to it.
Ashok Chakraborty, Nadia BJP district committee president said, “We have sent a letter protecting against giving party tickets to corrupt persons who have recently joined. Giving such persons tickets will have a negative impact on people’s minds.” In Ranaghat Uttar Paschim, Partha Sarathi Chatterjee who recently joined from TMC, too faced protests.
Recently, three Nadia district vice presidents, two district general secretaries, six secretaries, presidents of Mahila and Kisan Morcha wrote to state BJP president Dilip Ghosh to withdraw Partha Sarathi Chatterjee Chatterjee of TMC and Arindam Bhattacharya (Congress MLA later joined the TMC before defecting to the BJP) as candidates from Ranaghat and Jagatdal.
They threatened to resign if their plea is not accepted. Arindam Bhattacharya got a ticket party from Jagatdal of North 24 Parganas who also faced protest from long-time BJP cadres. Workers protested against Bhattacharya because he is an outsider and recently joined BJP from TMC.
“We are disappointed to see both Arindam Bhattacharya and Partha Sarathi Chatterjee as party candidates. We appeal to the party to cancel the candidature of these two leaders. Otherwise relieve us from duties and responsibilities of the party,” read a portion of the letter.
Party office in Jalpaiguri district in north Bengal was also set on fire. In Cooch Behar, Mihir Goswami who was among the first to join the BJP from Trinamool is a candidate from Natabari seat. However, there has been no protest. But BJP candidate Dipak Kumar Roy who left Forward Bloc about a year back, faced protests. Bhaben Roy, BJP district vice president who led the protest joined TMC yesterday.
Those who faced protests were not just past TMC leaders who moved over to BJP. In Malda, Matiur Rahman of Harishchandrapur faced protest because he had left Harishchandrapur many years ago and recently came back to his home district.
In Malda district, Gour Chandra Mondal got ticket for Manikchak who was TMC Zila Sabhadhipati and recently joined BJP. Local workers of BJP are not happy with Mondal’s ticket. Local BJP workers are also not happy with candidates in Sujapur, Gajol and Maldaha constituencies. In Gajol, sitting MLA Dipali Biswas who was in CPM and then shifted to TMC and recently joined BJP, denied ticket. Her followers started a protest in local party offices.
In South 24 Parganas district, however, protests by local BJP workers have been comparatively less than other districts. In Diamond Harbour and Sonarpur Uttar, BJP gave tickets to two former TMC leaders Dipak Halder and Ranjan Baidya. Halder was sitting MLA and Baidya was Zila parishad member of TMC. In Patharpratima, Kultali, Joynagar, Baruipur Paschim and Raidighi constituencies, party workers are unhappy with candidates. However, they did not protest outside the party.
BJP observer of South 24 Parganas district, Sayak Roy said, “These protests will not impact our vote share. Many leaders were expecting a ticket. They have some grievances. We will see to it but in the end they will fight for the BJP. The protest will be minimised within two-three days.”
In East Burdwan district, two candidates of BJP are former TMC leaders. In East Burdwan, Saikat Panja and Biswajit Kundu who joined the BJP with former state minister Suvendu Adhikari in December last year made BJP candidates. In West Burdwan district, former TMC leader Jitendra Tiwari and Diptangshu Choudhary made candidates from Pandabeswar and Durgapur Purba seats respectively.
TMC spokesperson Kunal Ghosh ridiculed the BJP for ignoring the contribution of old-timers to make way for the TMC turncoats. “It was evident from the candidate list that the BJP is struggling to find leaders to contest the polls. Firstly, it fielded sitting MPs and a Union minister then prioritised the TMC turncoats. It is obvious that old-timers who helped build the party and fought with us were hoping for recognition. Now, they are expressing their anger against the party which is understandable,” he said.
(With inputs from Atri Mitra)
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