Kolkata: West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Friday, March 5, made what are being seen as sweeping changes to the Trinamool Congress’s candidate line-up for the upcoming assembly elections, in an ostensible effort to counter the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The TMC supremo, fighting one of her toughest elections, will contest from the Nandigram seat alone, dispelling rumours that she will be contesting from more than one seat.
Sixty four sitting MLAs, including five ministers, were denied tickets on grounds like age and non-performance. Around 17% of the candidates in TMC’s list are women – accounting for 50 of the 291 candidates. Candidates for three seats in north Bengal were not announced as they are for the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.
A number of the candidates were prominent names in cinema, television and sports.
Of the candidates, 42 were Muslims, 79 belong to the Scheduled Castes (SC) and 17 to the Scheduled Tribes (ST). Former IPS officer Humayun Kabir and Sanmarg newspaper editor Vivek Gupta are also part of the list.
State finance minister, the 73-year-old Amit Mitra, will not contest the election as he has opted out of the race due to health reasons.
The richest TMC MLA according to recent wealth declarations – Samir Chakraborty – who contested for the first time in 2016 from Taldangra constituency in Bakura also pulled out of contest. Chakraborty said that he will campaign for the party.
Individual candidates matter little in the TMC’s scheme of politics, where Mamata Banerjee is the sole figure.
Banerjee too made this clear while addressing a public rally, when she said, “You [the voter] think that it is I who is contesting from all 294 seats and vote for TMC. We will give a befitting reply to BJP.”
Banerjee visited Nandigram after Suvendu Adhikari, once Banerjee’s trusted lieutenant, exited the party and joined BJP.
While addressing a rally at Tekhali, Nandigram, she said, “I will fight from Nandigram. My heart told me, ‘Nandigram is your lucky place. So, you should fight from Nandigram’.”
This decision is politically significant as Adhikari was the MLA from this assembly segment and has made it amply clear that he wishes to beat Banerjee’s candidate from the seat itself. Through her decision, Banerjee has pulled the curtains on a direct face-off with Adhikari, challenging him on his home turf.
Since Adhikari joined BJP, he has been vocal with the ‘village versus Kolkata’ narrative by saying, “Handful of people sitting in South Kolkata are running this state; we won’t accept this. This fight is between the village and South Kolkata and will have to show what we are.”
By contesting from Nandigram, Banerjee has – at least now – taken the fight to the villages to counter the ‘village versus Kolkata’ narrative.
Akhil Giri, TMC MLA from Ramnagar, had earlier told The Wire, “After her announcement I can just say one thing – the district of Purbo (east) Medinipur will give her second chief minister to Bengal.”
Bengal’s sixth chief minister Ajoy Kumar Mukherjee was from Purbo Medinipur as well.
BJP is also likely to field Adhikari from Nandigram and will make the official announcement soon.
Minister for power supplies, Sovandeb Chatterjee, will be TMC’s candidate from Banerjee’s usual constituency of Bhawanipur, where she has been the sitting MLA since 2011.
Big push for women
The TMC election campaign has largely hinged on women. Slogans like “Bangla nijer meyekei chaye” (‘Bengal wants her own daughter’) have been keen to bolster the ‘daughter’ aspect.
According to the new draft rolls released by the Election Commission, the state has 3.59 crore female voters of the total 7.32 crore in the state.
In the 2019 parliamentary election, TMC was the only party that nominated women in more than 41% of the seats it contested. Seventeen out of its 42 candidates were women, a number higher than the 33% mark.
Reservation for women in panchayats has expanded to 50% from 33%, the state government claims, and the number of elected women representatives is 30,157 today, compared to 21,351 in 2008.
Added emphasis was also given to Dalit and Adivasi candidates as TMC fielded more SC (68 seats reserved) and ST (16 seats reserved) candidates than the number of seats reserved for the categories.
Banerjee also named cricketer Manoj Tiwary as candidate of Shibpur constituency in Howrah district. Folk singer Aditi Munshi was named from Rajarhat, filmmaker Raj Chakraborty is the candidate from Barrackpore and tribal actor Birbaha Hansda is the Jhargram candidate, among other stars.
Several Bengali actors like Kanchak Mallick, June Maliah, Sayantika Banerjee, Lovely Moitra, Sayani Ghosh, Koushani Mukherjee and Soham Chakraborty are also in the list.
TMC has fielded the wives of two key BJP leaders for the upcoming polls. Ratna Chatterjee, the wife of former Bengal minister and Kolkata mayor Sovan Chatterjee, who joined the BJP last year is a candidate. Sujata Mondal Khan, wife of BJP MP Saumitra Khan – who joined BJP just before the 2019 Lok Sabha election – is another.
While addressing the media, Mamata Banerjee said, “I am grateful to Sharad Pawar, Hemant Soren, Tejaswi Yadav, Akhilesh Yadav and Arvind Kejriwal for the support and solidarity they have conveyed to me.”
Stressing on the importance of the upcoming election, she said, “Only TMC can maintain peace, prosperity, and communal harmony in Bengal. Our government will continue all its pro-people measures that we have taken in the last ten years aimed at girls, women and the elderly.”