Kolkata: As eight constituencies of West Bengal go to polls in the fourth phase of Lok Sabha election on Monday, the battle for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would be to ensure that its two representatives are able to retain their MP status in the state.
While Babul Supriyo is the incumbent parliamentarian from Asansol and is seeking a re-election, SS Ahluwalia has switched constituencies from Darjeeling to contest from the Burdwan-Durgapur seat, this time. Would the two MPs be able to cast their magic for the second time is a big question.
Supriyo is pitted against Trinamool Congress candidate Moon Moon Sen, who is a former Bengali actress and the incumbent MP from Bankura.
The challenges will be to counter Sen, who as a candidate is neutral to factionalism within the TMC and has visibility among people. However, Sen is not a local candidate and does not know the constituency and its people well.
This, coupled with the fact that Sen has not done much work for Bankura in the last five years, might affect Sen’s prospects.
According to analysts, what might also work in Supriyo’s favour is sympathy votes. “The MP was absent for the first three years and only started working in his constituency from the fourth year. The Trinamool Congress tried to prevent the initiatives he took up and this was not taken positively by local voters. Supriyo could win their sympathy votes,” says Biswanath Chakraborty, an observer.
“The second factor is that some voters are unhappy with the TMC as they could not cast their vote in the panchayat elections held last year. Almost all the seats went uncontested in the constituency which made people question the TMC as a party that was stopping them from exercising their democratic right. People are keen to cast their vote this time,” adds Chakraborty.
Another analyst Shikha Mukherjee is also of the opinion that Supriyo stands a good chance in Asansol. “He has been vocal in recent years and energises the anti-TMC vote. He won in 2014 with the Narendra Modi wave and is hoping this factor will again work in his favour,” says Mukherjee.
On the other hand, the changing political dynamics in the hills led the BJP to remove Ahluwalia from Darjeeling and field him from Burdwan-Asansol, this time.
Ahluwalia’s in-laws are from Durgapur, an aspect he is using to establish a connection with the voters. However, he is not a local face and that may not help his case.
“I don’t think his work in Darjeeling matters to people in Durgapur. The BJP put up Ahluwalia to build a bond with people. But why should he have any traction with voters? It might be his ‘sasural’ (in-laws’ place), but he has never been there nor does he know the constituency well. The saffron party is looking at a parliamentary constituency where the grassroots-level voters belong to the CPI(M) and Trinamool Congress. Where does the BJP think it is going to get its votes from?” says Mukherjee.
“Darjeeling is a different story, as the support of the hill parties determine the course of politics when it comes to the Lok Sabha election. In Burdwan-Durgapur, however, it will be tough for him to win without the support of a party to ally with. The TMC candidate will also give a tough competition as she is already an MP who comes from a well-known political family and has a sizeable vote-bank,” adds Mukherjee.
The incumbent MP here is TMC candidate Mamtaz Sanghamitra who belongs to the land-owning gentry of Burdwan district.
She is a seasoned political figure and her father, late Syed Abul Mansur Habibullah, was a speaker in the West Bengal Assembly.
Also, people, at large, are aware of Ahluwalia’s absence during the 104-day strike in Darjeeling in 2017 which might go against him.
Chakraborty is of the opinion that BJP stands no chance as far as Ahluwalia is concerned. “He has an image of neglecting the people of Darjeeling in the last five years. People have no faith in him. It is impossible for the BJP to win this seat with him as a candidate even though his in-laws live here,” says Chakraborty.
As the saffron camp hopes to ride on the ‘Modi-wave’, it has nothing to lose in Mamata Banerjee’s turf where it has already made significant inroads.
While the party is said to be looking at 20-23 Lok Sabha seats, the script in Asansol and Burwan-Durgapur may play a determining role in the BJP’s game plan.