Political power and equations have seen a change in “greater Siliguri” after the results of the West Bengal state Assembly elections in early May this year. As political leaders settle down a bit after the polls now, speculations have come up as to who will finally rule the roost in the all important Siliguri when the civic body goes to the polls soon.
Very significantly, three political personalities, who virtually “ruled the region” for many years–CPIM leader Asok Bhattacharya in the Siliguri Assembly constituency, Congress leader Shankar Malakar in Matigara and Naxalbari and Trinamul Congress leader Gautam Deb in Dabgram-Fulbari–have failed to retain their seats this time around.
BJP leaders Shankar Ghosh, Anandamoy Barman and Shikha Chatterjee have been elected the new MLAs of these three constituencies.
However, despite his failure and despite the cloud over elections to the Siliguri Municipal Corporation (SMC) due to the Covid-19 pandemic, observers in the region feel that the TMC will try to come to power in Siliguri by projecting Mr Deb, the former tourism minister, as the Mayor.
As the Trinamul Congress comes to power for the third consecutive term under the leadership of Mamata Banerjee, senior TMC leader Gautam Deb, the former MLA and minister, with his long experience in the administration, is still active in the political arena as the chairman of the Board of Administrators at the SMC.
The five-year tenure of the elected Left Front Board at the SMC ended in May last year, while the state government has appointed administrators to run the civic body.
As the TMC replaced the CPIM-led Left Front government in Bengal in 2011, Dr Rudranath Bhattacharya, as an MLA from Siliguri, was the replacement of Asok Bhattacharya here. On the other hand, a Siliguri resident, Mr Deb became the minister for the North Bengal development department in 2011 and replaced Mr Bhattacharya, who was the urban development minister, and since then the Trinamul leader had “ruled Siliguri politically” in the last 10 years.
Notably, though Asok Bhattacharya faced defeat in the 2011 Assembly elections, the CPIM-led Left in Siliguri took control of the region by winning both the SMC and Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad (SMP) elections later.
The CPI-M had then projected Asok Bhattacharya as the Mayor for the civic body polls and the Left came to power in association with the Congress under the leadership of Shankar Malakar.
“Nobody knows when the state government will conduct the polls in civic bodies, including the SMC, amid the raging second wave of Covid19, but I think the Trinamul Congress will try to come to power by projecting Gautam Deb as the Mayor whenever the elections are announced,” an observer said.
“Deb, being the chairman of the SMC board of administrators, is trying hard to bring in massive development in Siliguri so that he and his party candidates can easily win a majority of the seats in the polls,” the political observer added.
Another observer said that Mr Deb’s social media page where he posts several newspaper clippings, “indicate his political plans and aspirations for the near future.”
Some political observers, who believe that a majority of the Siliguri people may go with the ruling party during the civic body polls for development here, are also curious to know about the fate of Asok Bhattacharya.
“Will he take part in the next civic polls, following his party’s decision, or will he retire from parliamentary politics? That is the big question,” another observer said.
The observers are also discussing the role of the new Siliguri MLA, Shankar Ghosh, who was the disciple of Asok Bhattacharya until he switched sides to the BJP just before the recent Assembly elections.
“Being a BJP MLA, Mr Ghosh’s role will be like that of his mentor Asok Bhattacharya, as the Trinamul Congress is in power,” an observer said.
Others believe that Mr Ghosh may “surprisingly build his political career” from Siliguri “by joining hands with the Trinamul Congress.”
“The only thing here is whether Mr Deb will allow a strong rival in Siliguri,” yet another observer and political leader said.