Why this Siliguri man is the CPM’s poster boy in West Bengal | india | Hindustan Times
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Why this Siliguri man is the CPM’s poster boy in West Bengal

Ever since the diminutive CPI(M) leader stalled the ruling Trinamool Congress’ victory sweep in the state some months ago by wresting the municipal corporation in Siliguri – the state’s second biggest city – and winning the largest number of seats in the subsequent panchayat elections in the sub-division, Bhattacharya has emerged as the new poster boy for the Marxists.

india Updated: Dec 10, 2015 17:22 IST
Indian demonstrators hold placards as they take part in a campaign against plastic carry bags and demanding a
Indian demonstrators hold placards as they take part in a campaign against plastic carry bags and demanding a "Plastic Free Zone" in Siliguri on December 8, 2015.(AFP)

For someone who is barely 5 feet 5 inches tall, the former urban development minister of West Bengal, Asok Bhattacharya, has seen a dramatic rise in his political stature in recent months.

Ever since the diminutive CPI(M) leader stalled the ruling Trinamool Congress’ victory sweep in the state some months ago by wresting the municipal corporation in Siliguri – the state’s second biggest city – and winning the largest number of seats in the subsequent panchayat elections in the sub-division, Bhattacharya has emerged as the new poster boy for the Marxists.

Siliguri and the adjoining areas account for just four assembly seats and would not have mattered much otherwise. But after being decimated by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee across the state, the rare wins in North Bengal have catapulted Bhattacharya into the limelight and filled the Marxists with hopes of a political resurrection six months ahead of the assembly elections.

A minister for 20 years, besides heading the Siliguri Municipal Corporation between 1986 and 1991, Bhattacharya remains modest about his achievements. “There is no Siliguri model. It is a creation of the media. We are only getting people together to reject misgovernance and atrocities,” he says.

In a party mostly made up of ageing apparatchiks, Bhattacharya is seen by many as a rare bright spot. “We are going to spread the Siliguri message across the state,” insists Surya Kanta Mishra, the leader of the opposition.

Bhattacharya is much in demand. “I have already attended three party programmes in North 24 Parganas and North Dinajpur. I will visit some of these areas again in the coming weeks,’’ Bhattacharya told HT.

Those who know Bhattacharya closely say he is no firebrand orator, nor overtly charismatic. What separates him from the rest is his optimism post the 2011 debacle. “We took to the streets within six months raising people-centric issues like police atrocities and vector-borne diseases,” he says, sitting in his modest home.

With a personal asset of about Rs 17 lakhs, Bhattacharya’s electoral astuteness stands out. Apparently, he went to the polls exhorting voters to elect the best opposition candidate in the fray to defeat the TMC.

The strategy paid rich dividends. Even without an official seal of electoral understanding, a rainbow coalition took shape and worsted the ruling party. “The lesson from Siliguri is that if the opposition parties want to win, they must not allow the division of opposition votes,” points out Amal Kumar Mukhopadhyay, former principal of Presidency College.

Not everyone though is ecstatic about Bhattacharya. Dyutish Chakraborty of North Bengal University points out that the TMC was never a force in the region. “It fared badly in the 2013 panchayat elections and got a few seats in earlier sub-divisional polls.”

Yet, as the CPI(M) plots to claw back in the state -- there is already talk of possible tie-up with the Congress -- Bhattacharya clearly has given his party some food for thought.