Lok Sabha Election 2019

BJP’s Bengal gambit opens in Barrackpore

Chess strategy: BJP’s candidate Arjun Singh (in picture), will take on Trinamool’s Dinesh Trivedi in Barrackpore.

Chess strategy: BJP’s candidate Arjun Singh (in picture), will take on Trinamool’s Dinesh Trivedi in Barrackpore.   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

With Mukul Roy’s inside information, party is working out a strategy for every seat

West Bengal, as the home of Jan Sangh founder Syama Prasad Mookerjee, had never given much space to the BJP. But the 2019 Lok Sabha election will see it make a decisive entry into the political space in the State, say party leaders.

Mukul Roy, the man who managed Mamata Banerjee’s electoral machine for a long time before being sidelined in the Trinamool Congress and moving to the BJP in 2016, is now expected to subvert the system that he put in place. One seat at a time.

Sidelined minorities

One of the first things that the meticulous Mr. Roy did when he first entered the BJP was to make a list of 32 seats in the State (out of a total of 42) where the minority (read Muslim) vote was not decisive. West Bengal has around 30% Muslim vote. Mr. Roy’s simple thesis was that this was not spread evenly across seats to impair the BJP’s prospects and the party should aim at seats where there was a case for a consolidation of non-minority votes.

Some of the seats on Mr. Roy’s list were Barrackpore (17% minority), Bankura (5%), Purulia (8%), Medinipur (11%), where BJP State chief Dilip Ghosh is contesting, Alipureduar (11%), Hooghly (14%), Jhargram (7%), Bishnupur (12%) and Ranaghat (8%).

In many of these seats, the BJP did very well in the panchayat polls of 2018, and saw its vote share overall surge to 35%. The party went on to claim the second spot after the ruling Trinamool.

“Therefore, when you say that we have candidates from other parties, please be mindful that we are the real challengers to Mamata Banerjee, not the Congress or the CPI(M). So our tickets have also been sought,” Kailash Vijaywargiya, BJP general secretary in charge of the State, said.

Micro management

The Barrackpore seat is a good example of the chess board of the BJP strategy. It has been held by Dinesh Trivedi of the Trinamool in the previous two Lok Sabha elections, with the BJP polling a somewhat impressive 21.9% vote. Critically, out of the 2,07,000 victory margin posted by Mr. Trivedi in 2014, nearly 70,000 were polled, say BJP leaders, from the Bijpur Assembly seat held by Mr. Roy’s son, Shubhranghshu Roy.

The younger Mr. Roy remains in the Trinamool. The BJP’s candidate for the seat this time is Arjun Singh, another defector from the Trinamool and MLA for Bhatpara, where Mr. Trivedi lost more than 2,500 votes to the BJP. Mr. Singh is considered a local strongman, and possibly looked at the way his support base was going and made the switch.

“I come from the people, and people are grounded, not from the moon,” he said, rather evocatively, about his jump from one party to the other. “West Bengal has seen a change from the Congress to the Left to Trinamool, and they will now extend support to BJP; I merely reflect that,” he said. Mr. Singh, who was deployed by Ms. Banerjee to handle a communal flare-up last year in the area, which resulted in some hurt feelings in the majority community there, says that he “did what he did” because he was in the Trinamool. “I have told people that when I was with the Trinamool, I followed their policies with integrity,” he added.

Strange position

BJP supporters in the area are now in a strange position of having to support a candidate they complained most about appeasing minorities. A situation that saw the district general secretary of the BJP, Pramod Singh, quit the day Mr. Arjun Singh joined. “My only opposition is to Arjun Singh,” he said, adding that this time around his vote would go to Mr. Trivedi.

Mr. Trivedi, when The Hindu caught up with him, expressed confidence that the exit of many Trinamool men and women was a “house cleaning exercise”.

“I was in minus of 2,500 votes from Bhatpara, Arjun Singh’s seat. And now the people will show him why that was so. I do admit that we may have turned a blind eye to what he was doing earlier,” he said.

There wasn’t much said about the lead from Shubhranghshu Roy’s seat. He has also found some warmth for arch rivals, the CPI(M), wresting back, he says, the premises of a Left-backed theatre group, Jagruti, in Barackpore, from Mr. Singh’s “occupation” and restoring it to them. Subhashini Ali of the CPI(M) had stood second here in 2014.

The story of the Barrackpore seat with its complexity of electoral equations and local compulsions, is repeated throughout the State. This seat-by-seat battle, by virtue of its ferocity, is the contest to watch in the 2019 polls.

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2020 11:16:34 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/lok-sabha-2019/bjps-bengal-gambit-opens-in-barrackpore/article26636805.ece

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