As the BJP’s move to name 148 Assembly election candidates today drew mixed reaction, especially from party leaders in the region, it also threw up an interesting situation in the high-profile Siliguri constituency.
For the past few days, all eyes were on Shankar Ghosh, the popular CPI-M leader in the town who very recently defected to the saffron brigade, while the BJP today selected him as its candidate for the Siliguri seat, where veteran CPIM leader Asok Bhattacharya is also contesting as the candidate for the Left-Congress ISF combine. Once touted as a trusted lieutenant of Bhattacharya, Ghosh had joined the BJP on 12 March.
The BJP, however, did not name the candidates for the three Hill seats today.
On the other hand, several aspirants for the Siliguri Assembly constituency are apparently upset after Ghosh, a CPI-M activist for the past 30 years, was picked by the party.
The BJP has nominated Shikha Chatterjee for another high-profile assembly segment, Dabgram-Fulbari, where TMC leader, outgoing MLA and state tourism minister Gautam Deb is contesting for the third time.
The BJP has also selected Anandamoy Barman, an RSS activist, for the Matigara-Naxalbari seat, while Durga Murmu would contest from Phansidewa in Darjeeling district.
The BJP also named candidates for all the seats in Jalpaiguri. Bishnu Pada Roy, Koushik Roy, Sujit Singha, Supen Roy, Mahesh Bagey and Puna Bhengra will contest from Dhupguri, Maynaguri, Jalpaiguri, Rajganj, Mal and Nagrakata, respectively.
“Voters in Dabgram-Fulbari had been expecting the party to nominate Shikha Chatterjee, and as a result the BJP accepted her candidature gladly,” a party source said.
“However, in the case of Siliguri, many leaders have not yet accepted Shankar Ghosh from within, though they would have to abide by the party’s decision and remain silent,” the source added.
Sources further said that this time around, the non-Bengali communities in Siliguri had approached the BJP to nominate a candidate from their community. “But based on the Bengali sentiment, the party was in search of an outstanding candidate for Siliguri,” they said.
Some note personalities in the town, including party leaders and those from the business community and other sectors, had sent their profiles to the BJP leadership, hoping for candidature, it is learnt.
“Of them, party leaders like Dr Biswajit Ghosh, advocate Akhil Biswas, and chartered accountant Rathin Bose were the main aspirants. Siliguri organisational district president of the party Praveen Agarwal and another leader Sabita Agarwal had also expressed their desire to contest the Assembly elections,” a source said.
The source added that businessman Bimal Dalmia and former chairman of the Confederation of Indian Industries, North Bengal, Sanjit Saha, were also among those who had sent their bio-data to party leaders.
According to political observers, this is the second time that Siliguri residents will witness a fight between the mentor Asok Bhattacharya and his “disciple.”
A decade ago, Nantu Paul had left the CPI-M, joined the Congress and contested the elections against Asok Bhattacharya, when he was in “full form” during the Left regime. Mr Paul, who later joined the Trinamul Congress, lost to Mr Bhattacharya. “Mr Paul, who was denied ticket by the TMC this time and left the party, had also been trying hard to manage a ticket from the BJP,” the sources said.
“Now the question is whether mentor Bhattacharya would be able to hand down defeat to his rebel disciple Shankar Ghosh, when the wave seems in favour of the BJP,” a political observer said.
“Non-Bengali people, like those from the Bihari, Marwari and Punjabi communities, play a decisive role in both parliamentary and Assembly polls in Siliguri. To appease the Bihari people and keeping eye on the vote bank, the CPIM has been fielding Dilip Singh as the candidate for the Dabgram-Fulbari Assembly seat,” the observer added.
Sources said that trouble began in the CPI-M on this very issue, when the then CPI-M leader Shankar Ghosh pointed out many issues, including the alliance with the Indian Secular Front for alleged vote politics. “Mr Ghosh wanted to contest from the Dabgram-Fulbari at last, as Dilip Singh had suffered defeat there for several times, but the party rejected his plea. Finally, the BJP took the opportunity to hire Mr Ghosh to beat both Asok Bhattacharya and Professor Om Prakash Mishra (TMC candidate),” a source said.
“Asok Bhattacharya recently wrote in his Facebook wall that he was ready to give up his position to junior party leaders after the incident of the Nabanna Abhiyan. But finally, Mr Bhattacharya could not give up the opportunity to contest the polls again. As a result, the BJP took the opportunity to field Mr Ghosh against him to bag the seat,” the observer added.
On the other hand, apart from Kalchini, where Bishal Lama will contest the elections on a BJP ticket, the party has not yet fielded any Gorkha leader elsewhere. The Gorkha community in the MatigaraNaxalbari area was also expecting a Gorkha candidate there, as over 35 percent of the voters there belong to the community. “To ensure Gorkha votes in other segments like Siliguri, a section of party leaders wanted to field more Gorkha candidates, apart from the Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong constituencies,” a source said.
“At a time when the Trinamul Congress has given up the three Hill seats to its Gorkha friends–both the Binoy Tamang and Bimal Gurung factions–the party will announce the candidates’ names for those seats very soon,” a party source said.