Infighting Flares Up in Bengal BJP Soon After Party Announces Candidates' List

Several new entrants in the party have been given tickets, angering old-timers.

Kolkata: Discontent among Bharatiya Janata Party supporters has been brewing, as the party inducts leaders from the Trinamool Congress, Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Congress almost daily in Bengal. On March 15, hundreds of BJP supporters held all-day protests outside the party’s election office in Hastings, south Kolkata, for fielding turncoats as BJP candidates.

Their anger was clearly visible when senior BJP leaders like national vice-president Mukul Roy, MP from Barrackpore Arjun Singh and national general secretary Shiv Prakash were heckled by the protestors while they were entering the party office.

Extraordinary visuals showed hundreds of BJP supporters shouting slogans and breaking barricades to make their way to the party office. A large contingent of police was deployed to control the situation.

The protest led Union home minister Amit Shah to change his planned schedule and stop in Kolkata for the night on his way from Guwahati to Delhi. Shah was campaigning in various parts of Bengal till Monday evening and later flew to Assam for party meetings.

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Hours after the party candidates’ names were announced, the rift between old-timers and newcomers in the West Bengal BJP came out in the open. Several aspirants voiced their anguish against the party and resigned after they were denied tickets, while protests were held across the state.

Several district BJP offices were either locked or ransacked. Angered over the party’s decision to field TMC turncoats, protestors burned tyres and staged demonstrations in many parts of Kolkata, Howrah, Hooghly and South 24 Parganas.

Four-time TMC MLA from Singur Rabindranath Bhattacharya was denied a ticket this time. Soon after, the 89-year-old retired schoolteacher joined the BJP. And on Sunday, BJP announced Bhattacharya as the party candidate from Singur for the upcoming assembly election.

Protests broke out in Singur immediately after the announcement was made. Crowd started shouting slogans against the BJP’s pick, and demanded that the party field ‘original’ BJP candidates.

Vishwas Sarang, medical education minister from Madhya Pradesh, and another senior BJP leader from Uttar Pradesh, who were attending a meeting in Singur’s Apurbapur, were locked inside a party office for over four hours.

Local leaders threatened that if the party high command doesn’t change the candidate, they would put up independent candidates and ensure Bhattacharya was defeated.

Former TMC veteran and Kolkata mayor Sovan Chatterjee, who joined the BJP after the 2019 Lok Sabha election along with his friend Baisakhi Bandopadhyay, quit the party after he was not given a ticket from his desired constituency.

Chatterjee is a two-time MLA from Behala Purba constituency. This ticket went to film star Payel Sarkar, who joined the BJP a few days ago. Chatterjee’s friend Baisakhi Bandopadhyay too was denied a ticket. In a letter to BJP state chief Dilip Ghosh, Chatterjee said he was ‘extremely humiliated and pained’ to accept the party’s decision.

Similar protests broke out in Panchla, Udayanarayanpur and Raidighi as the BJP nominated two TMC turncoats – Mohit Ghati and Santanu Bapuni – from Panchla and Raidighi constituencies and former Congress leader Sumit Ranjan Karar from Udaynarayanpur.

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The nomination of Ashok Lahiri, former chief economic advisor to the Government of India, from the Alipurduar seat and Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) turncoat Bishal Lama from Kalchini triggered a wave of protests in North Bengal.

“We don’t know who Ashok Lahiri is, why will he be nominated here? Bishal Lama joined BJP two days ago and he was nominated. Old-timers who fought for the party were sidelined, we will not tolerate this injustice,” a local BJP leader from Alipurduar told the media.

BJP’s Hooghly office was ransacked. Somnath Maitra, a party leader in the district, was beaten up by an angry crowd. Supporters are also angry with the party high command’s decision to give a ticket to Deepanjan Guha from Chandanagore constituency, who they consider an outsider.

Interestingly, supporters ransacked the party office in Hooghly’s Chinsura too, where the BJP has not fielded a new entrant but the party’s sitting MP Locket Chatterjee. BJP workers alleged that the seat had strong local contenders for the ticket and threatened to field independent candidates to defeat Chatterjee.

In a surprise move, the party nominated Union minister Babul Supriyo, three sitting MPs – Locket Chatterjee, Nisith Pramanik and Rajya Sabha MP Swapan Dasgupta (who resigned from the Upper House on Tuesday) – to contest the high-stakes state election.

Several district level BJP leaders resigned after turncoats were given tickets by the BJP instead of party long-timers. Bengal BJP spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya downplayed the chain of events and dubbed them as ‘temporary’.

Commenting on the political developments, TMC MP Mahua Moitra tweeted saying, “Loving this slow unfolding of the WB BJP Candidate List soap opera. When the ‘largest global political party’ lacks enough faces & strength to announce 294 names in one go for a state, it claims it will sweep!”

The saffron party has announced candidates for only 123 of 294 assembly segments in Bengal, where elections will be held in eight phases between March 27 and April 29.