Dressed in a white kurta with a garland around his neck, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate and former Rajya Sabha MP Swapan Dasgupta walks the muddy lanes of the rural constituency of Tarakeshwar in sweltering heat, folding his hands before residents and imploring them to vote for him.
“There is a lot of resentment in West Bengal over the corruption inherent in the disbursal of people’s entitlements. That is the number one issue,” Dasgupta told News18 in an exclusive interview on Tuesday, campaigning in the constituency best known for its ancient Shiva temple.
Tarakeshwar is in Hooghly, one of the districts impacted by Cyclone Amphan that hit West Bengal in May 2020. The BJP believes alleged irregularities in the distribution of relief materials will impact the poll outcome in the seat held by the ruling Trinamool Congress.
“For a grant of Rs 50,000-60,000, there has been corruption…(they say) you pay us Rs 20,000 and then you get it. This is ethically and morally wrong, especially if you take away money from the pockets of these poor people. A lot of the money has been given to people who already have it, on political considerations.
“And the Amphan relief non-delivery is a big issue. On top of that, in the villages, the Scheduled Tribe (ST) and the Dalit populations complain that they are constantly under attack from the Trinamool cadre, who come on motorbikes and threaten; the girls have been complaining,” he said.
ALL GUNS BLAZING
Dasgupta resigned as a nominated Rajya Sabha member to fight for the BJP from this seat. Apart from him, three BJP Lok Sabha MPs are in the fray in this fiercely fought election.
“MPs Locket Chatterjee, Nisith Parmanik and Babul Supriyo are also fighting. We have to go all guns blazing to send a message to the BJP workers that we are here to win the state,” he said.
But can his party keep up the momentum it gained in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and oust chief minister Mamata Banerjee?
“…I believe we are picking up momentum every day. Nationally, the BJP may be a very old party, but in West Bengal, our growth has been relatively new. (However) lots of people have suddenly come (forward) in the last few years. There is a lot of enthusiasm. There is also a little inbuilt chaos, but the enthusiasm is compensating for that. We have to channel these energies to delivering the vote at the right time and the right place,” Dasgupta told News18.
He also said Banerjee’s injury, which she suffered in Nandigram earlier this month, was not a real factor in the elections. “I have not really encountered anyone who has been talking about that,” Dasgupta said, referring to the CM’s injuries that she blamed on the BJP.
SUSPENSE OVER CM FACE
When asked if he was among the probables for the chief minister’s post if the BJP won the elections, Dasgupta said he did not know why such things come up. “This is not something that preoccupies me so much. One thing flattering about this talk about CM face is that everyone expects the BJP to win — which I think is very reassuring. I am relatively novice in electoral politics. Maybe I have a certain innate understanding of the administrative process and something like that, but there are others too,” he said.
Asked if this meant he was not in the race, Dasgupta said the party will take a decision once the results were out and that it will have to balance many things. “All of us (BJP’s West Bengal leaders) are very good friends. (We) are working as colleagues and there is no rivalry or back-biting amongst each other,” Dasgupta said.
Dasgupta cited the BJP’s big promises for women in its manifesto, saying this section was shifting towards his party. “I have found in my interactions that it is the women who are mostly with us. What really touches them is the PM Awas Yojana (the Centre’s flagship programme for affordable housing) and the drinking water scheme, Har Ghar Jal. These two national schemes of (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi resonate on the ground,” he said.
Dasgupta also talked about the plight of the economically backward sections. “…those who are very poor live in mud houses opposed to brick houses…Once you could have said mud huts look very pretty and picturesque, but in reality, if you go inside these mud huts, it is very sub-human. Banerjee has not delivered this scheme (PM Awas Yojana), or has done it very selectively and on a political basis,” he added.
Tarakeshwar will not be an easy seat for the BJP, as the Trinamool won it in the past two assembly elections. A senior Trinamool leader said: “The demand this time was for a local candidate. So we have chosen Ramendu Singha Roy, the Trinamool district president, while the BJP got caught in a trap and fielded an outsider here,”. The ruling party has dropped its sitting MLA and minister, Rachhpal Singh, from this seat.
The BJP, however, believes it is a close fight in Tarakeshwar, with the mishandling of the Amphan aftermath and alleged looting of relief work by Trinamool workers weighing heavy on voters’ minds. The BJP’s victory in the Hooghly Lok Sabha seat in 2019 is an extra dose of confidence.
From one village to another, Dasgupta, an urban suave bhadralok (gentleman) face of the party, is trying his best to make a connect with the rural voters. “It is a new experience; I will be very honest with you. The type of issues that concern rural voters and the rural dynamics are very different from the ones which prevail in the cities. Here, the larger issue of growth and opportunities have to be translated into some things that relate to people’s day-to-day lives. To make that transition in the form of your language and relationship is a new experience for me. I hope I’m managing to do it. People are looking at sincerity above all,” Dasgupta said