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Bengal Civic Polls: After Assembly Election Reality Check, BJP Cautiously Eyes Next Target

File photo of Bengal BJP chief Dilip Ghosh.

File photo of Bengal BJP chief Dilip Ghosh.

Elections for 107 municipalities in the state are to be held this year and the BJP is particularly focused on the 144 wards in the Kolkata Municipal Corporation.

Concerned over his party’s defeat in the April-May West Bengal assembly polls, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s state unit president Dilip Ghosh has started chalking out plans to take on the ruling Trinamool Congress in the elections for more than 100 civic bodies to be held this year.

Speaking to News18, Ghosh said, “Yes, polls are scheduled to be held this year in more than 100 civic bodies and we are aiming for it. We still have a good number of supporters in Bengal. Our vote share increased from 4 per cent in the 2011 assembly polls to more than 40 per cent in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. It dipped a little bit this time (the assembly elections) but we are not losing hope as far as the civic polls are concerned.”

Polling in 107 municipalities across the state is due and, on several occasions before the assembly elections, Ghosh had claimed that the TMC was scared of holding the civic polls because chief minister Mamata Banerjee knew her party would face a humiliating defeat. In the state election results announced on May 2, however, the saffron party remained limited to just 77 seats in Bengal instead of getting anywhere close to the 200-plus target that was repeatedly and publicly projected by its top leaders during poll campaigns. The TMC swept the fiercely fought polls, bagging 213 of the 292 seats available. Now that the political situation is not favourable for the BJP, Ghosh has asked party workers to increase mass connect with the people in all the 107 municipalities across the state. The party is particularly focused on the 144 wards in the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) area.

When asked how difficult it would be for him to retain his team as there are reports that a large number of BJP leaders may switch to the TMC camp ahead of the civic polls, Ghosh said, “In Bengal, all elections are challenging and therefore we are not taking the municipal polls lightly. We have seen how despite winning several gram panchayat seats, the Trinamool Congress didn’t allow our leaders to run the panchayats. The winning candidates were attacked and murdered. They were forced to take shelter in other states. Not the least, TMC leaders didn’t allow us to file nominations during panchayat polls. These are the challenges we are expecting during the civic polls. As far as the possibilities of BJP leaders joining the TMC camp are concerned, I have nothing to say. In politics, such things happen and there is nothing unusual. People will come and they will quit. But I believe that my old BJP leaders will stick with us and they will work hard to steer the party forward.”

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The BJP has also started preparing report cards of the TMC councillors to highlight failures. The party will underscore the menace of dengue in Kolkata, poor infrastructure of municipality-run schools and healthcare centres, as well as inadequate sanitation work.

About the turncoats from the TMC who failed to perform for the BJP in the assembly polls, Ghosh said, “In a democracy, you cannot stop anyone from joining any party. I think we should now focus on strengthening the party through proper ‘prashikshan’ (training) to look forward.”

In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP sent shockwaves through the TMC camp by winning an impressive 18 of 42 seats in Bengal.

In the past five years, the saffron party has made significant inroads in West Bengal and under the leadership of Dilip Ghosh it has not only managed to wrest 18 Lok Sabha seats (up from a mere two in 2014) from the TMC but also performed well in nearly 51 out of the 144 wards of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation.

The BJP’s analysis found that in the 2019 parliamentary polls, voting patterns suggested that in South and in North Kolkata, the party took the lead in nearly 26 wards. This included ward number 82 in Chetla, which belongs to mayor Firhad Hakim.

In January 2011, Hakim won a by-election from Chetla by securing nearly 76.82 per cent votes. In 2010, he had won from the same ward with nearly 72 per cent votes. His victory margin was huge against the BJP’s Jiban Sen who could manage only 11.95 per cent votes.

But in the Lok Sabha elections, Hakim’s party colleague Mala Roy, the Kolkata South candidate, managed to take the lead by around 1,000 votes only from the Chetla segment.

The most significant was Mamata Banerjee’s own ward number 73. As per the 2019 voting patterns, the BJP was ahead here by nearly 490 votes.

Similar trends were also seen in ward numbers 58, 85 and 93. While ward number 58 is of senior mayor-in-council member Swapan Samaddar, ward numbers 85 and 93 belong to Debasish Kumar and Ratan De, respectively. In all three wards, they failed to secure the lead.

At least three borough TMC chairpersons — Sandip Bakshi, Ratan Malakar and Susanta Ghosh — also trailed in their respective wards.

Senior TMC leader and party MP Sudip Bandopadhyay also trailed in eight of the 11 wards at Jorasanko in the Kolkata North Lok Sabha constituency. In Jadavpur, the ruling TMC trailed in four wards in the general elections.

In 2015, Trinamool had won 11 of the total 144 wards under the KMC. The Left parties had won 15 seats, while the BJP and Congress won seven and five, respectively.

Polling was held in 91 municipalities across the state in 2015 and TMC managed to win 71.

The State Election Commission (SEC), significantly, has drafted a list of reservations for the civic polls, indicating that four mayor-in-council members — Swapan Samaddar (in charge of environment and bustee development), Ratan Dey (roads), Baiswanor Chatterjee (housing) and Debabrata Majumder (solid waste management) — and two borough chairpersons of the KMC will not be able to contest from their own wards.

As per the SEC’s draft, eight out of the KMC’s 144 wards have come under Scheduled Caste reservation including three for SC women. A total of 45 wards have been reserved for women in the general category.

On October 1, 2020, the West Bengal BJP demanded immediate intervention of the state poll panel in conducting the civic elections.

Alleging that the state government was intentionally delaying the poll process, the party in its letter also mentioned the Supreme Court order (dated September 22, 2020), which sought the SEC’s opinion on how soon the pending elections could be conducted.

The Calcutta High Court had also observed that the polls should be held as soon as possible.

Leader of the Opposition (LoP) in the state assembly and BJP MLA Suvendu Adhikari said, “The party will decide how to go for the civic polls, and as far as my strategy is concerned, I will not like to make any comments or reveal anything to the media on this issue right now.”

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