Buoyed by Lok Sabha results, BJP targets TMC strongholds in Birbhum
For the high-profile Bolpur seat, the BJP has fielded Anirban Ganguly, director of its think tank in Delhi. He is also a member of the BJP’s policy research wing.
In Bengal’s Birbhum district, where political killings, rampant use of crude bombs and allegations of corruption against Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders have made headlines for years, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has zeroed in on several of the 11 assembly seats that go to the polls in the last and eighth phase on Thursday.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP could not win a seat in Birbhum but surprised people by staying ahead of the TMC in five assembly segments which were earlier considered as impregnable as the rest six.
At 37.06%, Muslims comprise a sizeable chunk of the district’s population as well as the TMC’s vote bank.
Birbhum is the only district where elections in all seats are being held together amid tight security in view of the violence witnessed in the past. The Election Commission (EC) has deployed 224 companies of central armed police force (CAPF) in the district.
The constituencies in Birbhum are Dubrajpur, Suri, Bolpur, Nanoor, Labhpur, Sainthia, Mayureswar, Rampurhat, Hansan, Nalhati and Murarai. The Bolpur and Rampurhat seats are represented by ministers Chandranath Sinha and Ashish Banerjee.
In 2019, the BJP was ahead of the ruling party in Dubrajpur, Suri, Sainthia, Rampurhat and Mayureswar. The organisations of the BJP, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Visva Hindu Parishad have grown exponentially in these regions, voters said.
Bolpur is the most prominent among the 11 seats because of Visva Bharati, the state’s only national university set up by Rabindranath Tagore at Santiniketan in Bolpur town. The Prime Minister is the chancellor of Visva Bharati.
At Bolpur, the BJP has fielded Anirban Ganguly, a scholar and director of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, the party’s think tank in Delhi. He is also a member of the BJP’s policy research wing.
Though the BJP national leadership has not named its chief ministerial candidate, Ganguly, senior state leaders said, might emerge as a probable face if the saffron camp manages to win the polls.
“The TMC government had to launch its duare sarkar (government at the doorstep) programme on the eve of elections because the administration has failed. Violence and murders during every election show that fear holds the key to power. We want to change the scenario,” said Ganguly.
Though the TMC defeated BJP at the Bolpur Lok Sabha seat in 2019, the saffron camp was ahead in the race in Bolpur town. Village voters helped TMC win the seat.
Since Modi is the chancellor of Visva Bharati, the TMC has made the university an issue. In its campaign, the TMC focused on vice-chancellor Bidyut Chakrabarty’s decision to build walls around the university and stop local artisans and handicraft traders from setting up shops on campus land. The local handicrafts trade offers employment to a few thousand people, who include members of the tribal community.
Minister Chandranath Sinha, the TMC candidate, said, “Tagore wanted an open campus, not one caged behind concrete walls.”
“The contest is going to be a close one. Bolpur town has been in the news in recent years because of Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah’s visits to Visva Bharati. They addressed rallies during campaign but the results this time will depend on how people in the villages vote,” said Swapan Chakraborty, a local businessman.
In Dubrajpur, Anup Saha, the BJP candidate, said, “Corruption and violence by local TMC leaders has changed the ground reality. We will surely win this seat.”
Realising that Dubrajpur might pose a problem, the TMC initially fielded Ashima Dhibar but later replaced her with Debabrata Saha, a college teacher.
At Rampurhat, represented by agriculture minister and four-time MLA Ashish Banerjee, the BJP was ahead of the TMC by around 13,000 votes in 2019. Banerjee is pitted against the BJP’s Suvashish Chowdhury. “TMC’s performance is right in front of the people. For example, Rampurhat now has a medical college and hospital where even Jharkhand residents come for treatment. BJP cannot win voters only with big promises,” said Banerjee.
In the Suri constituency, BJP has surprised voters by fielding Jagannath Chatterjee, a journalist with a popular vernacular daily who was born and brought up in Suri town, the administrative headquarters of Birbhum district. He gave up his job hours before the BJP announced its candidate list.
Chatterjee had been telling voters that the TMC government showed apathy towards Suri while focusing only on the development of Bolpur town. “Local people can relate to me as I grew up here,” said Chatterjee.
For his adversary, the TMC-run Zilla Parishad president Bikash Roy Chaudhury, the main disadvantage is the fact he is a resident of Bolpur town. “My achievement is that panchayat projects in Birbhum received three national awards. I represent the entire district,” said Roy Chaudhury, dismissing the “outsider” tag the BJP has put on him.