Didi keeps only 1 seat: Adhikari’s stronghold
- Mamata Banerjee left three seats in the Darjeeling hills for the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) whose two factions support her.
Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee on Friday sent out a strong signal of her confidence ahead of the eight-phase West Bengal assembly elections that begin on March 27 by announcing candidates for 291 of the 294 assembly seats on offer, dropping many incumbents, including ministers, and deciding to contest only from Nandigram, a constituency once represented by her protege-turned-bete-noire Suvendhu Adhikari, who recently defected to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The BJP said it will announce its candidate list after Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses his first election rally in Kolkata on Sunday.
Banerjee left three seats in the Darjeeling hills for the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) whose two factions support her.
At least 26 sitting legislators, including five ministers, do not find mention in the TMC list. The party has 211 seats in the outgoing assembly but is expected to face a tough fight in the coming elections from the BJP, which has made significant inroads in the state.
And as previously announced, Banerjee said she would contest Nandigram, and only that constituency, eschewing the strategy adopted by some chief ministers of contesting from two constituencies.
“When I make a promise, I keep it. I will fight for Nandigram,” Banerjee said at a crowded press conference at her home in south Kolkata’s Kalighat on Friday. She said her current seat, Bhawanipore, will be contested by power minister Sovandeb Chattopadhyay.
“Banerjee appeared confident when she announced the list of candidates but dropping so many incumbents will surely lead to some discontent that the BJP will try to utilise. The TMC has to keep a watch on infighting in the coming days,” said Kolkata-based political science professor and election analyst Udayan Bandopadhyay.
Adhikari’s younger brother Soumendu defected to the BJP last year while their elder brother Dibyendu and father Sisir, both of whom are TMC Lok Sabha members from the same district, are keeping their distance from the ruling party.
All eyes will be on Nandigram, which goes to polls on April 1, said analysts, since the BJP may field Adhikari again and cleric Abbasuddin Siddiqui’s Indian Secular Front (ISF), a partner of the Left-Congress coalition, also wants to contest the seat. Siddiqui wants to field his elder brother Nausad, the ISF chairman, from the high-profile constituency, while the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) are divided on this issue.
Suvnedu Adhikari addressed a rally at Panskura in East Midnapore shortly after the TMC’s list was released.
“The moment I saw the list I knew we have won all seats in East Midnapore. Mamata Banerjee has announced that she will contest from Nandigram but people are asking for a bhoomi putra (son of the soil). Why is she fleeing from Bhawanipore? It is because she knows she will lose there. But by whatever margin she might have lost from Bhawanipore will be doubled in Nandigram. On May 2, the day of counting of ballots, you (Banerjee) will return home defeated,” Adhikari told the crowd.
East Midnapore in South Bengal accounts for 16 of the assembly seats.
“It will be a bi-polar contest between the TMC and BJP in East Midnapore. However, the BJP needs to make inroads in the panchayats to put up a tough fight in East Midnapore,” said Bandopadhyay.
The TMC list features 50 women, 17 ST candidates and 79 SC candidates. The state has 68 and 16 reserved constituencies for SCs and STs.
Analysts say this may have to do with the fact that the BJP built a successful coalition of lower caste and tribal voters to win 18 of Bengal’s 42 Lok Sabha seats in 2019.
In the 2016 assembly polls, the BJP won three seats in Bengal. It has now set itself the target of winning at least 200.
Left Front chairman and senior CPI(M) leader Biman Bose, leaders of the other Left parties and former state Congress president Pradip Bhattacharya announced the names of candidates for 56 of the 60 seats that go to polls in the first two phases on March 27 and April 1. The coalition partners could not name their Nandigram candidate. “I cannot deny that there are some differences. The talks are on,” said Bhattacharya.
Banerjee named several actors and directors from the Bengali film industry. Her list featured sportsmen, singers, a former Indian Police Service officer, doctors and academicians as well.
“Several sitting MLAs, ministers and party leaders could not be given tickets. We had to find place for new blood and old-timers as well. People who are above 80 have been dropped in view of their health and the pandemic. We will revive the Vidhan Parishad (legislative council) of the assembly and induct these senior people,” Banerjee said.
Dropping so many incumbents triggered rather strong reactions.
The most surprising exclusion was that of Sonali Guha, Banerjee’s close aide during her early days in politics. The MLA from Satgachhia in South 24 Parganas, said, “I feel extremely sad.”
Former footballer Dipendu Biswas, who represents the Basithat south seat in North 24 Parganas said on being dropped: “Someone from the party could have at least told me in advance. People are now calling me up, expressing surprise.”
Moinudidn Shams, the MLA from Nalhati in Birbhum district, broke down in tears in a video he posted on social media. “Is this the reward I get for serving the people and standing up against the sand mafia?” he said in the video.
Followers of Arabul Islam, the MLA from Bhangar in South 24 Parganas, set up road blocks after Rejaul Karim, who does not belong to the district, was named as the TMC candidate.
At the press conference, Banerjee thanked regional parties such as the Nationalist Congress Party, Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal and Shiv Sena for expressing support to her. “Bengal will be ruled by people of the state. Bengal will be ruined if BJP wins,” she said.