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In Nadia, which BJP wrested in 2019, TMC’s key election plank: this is local, not national

In Santipur, where the BJP took a massive lead in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the aim of the TMC is clear: bring the elections to local issues.

The BJP office in Nabadwip. (Express photo by Dipankar Ghose)

Sujit Biswas, 46, a TMC logo on his shirt, sits in his kirana store right next to the crumbling National Highway that connects Kolkata to Siliguri on the outskirts of Santipur in Nadia. His perch is a vantage point — the entire ward comes shopping to his store.

As three women arrive, he talks to them about the April 17 elections and asks them if they are beneficiaries of the state government’s schemes. They nod. Then he delivers his punchline. “Do you think all the schemes, the cycles, Rupashree (Rs 25,000-aid for marriage), Kanyashree (girl scholarships)… these schemes will continue if Didi goes? This is a state election.

Remember that when you vote,” Biswas says.

In Santipur, where the BJP took a massive lead in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the aim of the TMC is clear: bring the elections to local issues.

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Biswas’s reasoning has its basis. In 2016, Nadia district voted decisively for the TMC, with the party winning 12 of the 17 seats. But by 2019, it was the BJP that led in 11 of the Assembly seats with the TMC reduced to six. Of these, the BJP swept the Ranaghat Lok Sabha seat, winning seven of the eight Assembly segments with impressive margins. In Santipur, which falls under Ranaghat, the BJP had a lead of close to 35,000 votes.

Given how strongly Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the top brass of the BJP have campaigned across the state, underlining the difference between national and assembly elections is key to the TMC strategy. Said Biswas: “In the national elections, with Pulwama and Balakot and all those other factors including the popularity of Modi, they took this area. But this is a state election, so local issues, local schemes, and local candidates matter.”

So one key TMC focus area in Santipur is the performance of the Ranaghat MP from BJP, who is now the Assembly candidate of the BJP from Santipur, Jagannath Sarkar. Biswas tells his audience, “It is for you to compare. Has Sarkar been accessible in these two years? Has he picked up your phone calls? Will he be there when you need him? Ajoy Babu is someone that always lives and walks among us, always ready to help.”

This is a reference to TMC candidate Ajoy Dey who has won the constituency five times, four from a Congress ticket, and once in the by-election after he switched over to the TMC. In what is symptomatic of the complicated nature of candidate selection all over the state, in 2016, on a TMC ticket, Dey lost to Arindam Bhattacharya of the Congress, who also switched over to the TMC a year later, but has now joined the BJP. Bhattacharya is now the BJP candidate from Jagatdal in North 24 Parganas.

But a BJP worker in the Ranaghat said that there were some “concerns” about candidate selection but their leads would hold. “People here are for the BJP and want the same government at the Centre and the state. There are some problems with candidates yes, but we will not lose. In Krishnannagar North, for instance, the BJP has given Mukul Roy the seat because they know it is safe for us. In Santipur, the TMC candidate is strong, but this is an election where people want poriborton,” he said.

How strong Modi is for the BJP campaign is evident in Nabadwip, 30 km away, a heritage town where Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was born and is host to a massive Rass festival on the banks of the Ganga, Govind Baidya is at the BJP’s ward office near the river, sorting flags and posters.

Nabadwip has a three-term MLA from the TMC, Pundarikshya Saha, who even Baidya says is a “good candidate”. This is the one Assembly segment in Ranaghat, which the TMC led in 2019, by a slim margin of around 4,000 votes.

“The TMC candidate is good, and people like him,” said Baidya, “but this is not about candidates at all. We go around asking for votes in the name of Narendra Modi. It is he who will bring shilpa (industry) to Bengal. People are tired of cut money and corruption, they want jobs and development. Only Modiji can bring this. We are sure we will win by 20,000 votes,” he said.

Baidya’s ideological moorings in the BJP are not very strong. Behind him, in the BJP office, are photographs of Shyama Prasad Mookherjee, and Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, as well as cutouts of state President Dilip Ghosh who inaugurated the office before the 2019 elections.

Baidya himself worked for the TMC before 2019. “I left because of the cut money and the violence that the TMC unleashed,” he said. Asked who the Chief Minister will be if the BJP would win, his answer is the same. “They are all respectable people, the ones on the wall, and our BJP leaders here. But my leader is Narendra Modi. Whoever he decides will be Chief Minister and they will work with him,” Baidya said.

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