By Tirthankar Mitra
With an eye on Rajbanshi community votes in next year’s Lok Sabha elections, Bengal BJP is supporting the candidacy of Greater Coochbehar People’s Movement leader, Ananta Maharaj who is known for his divisive activities. The move to keep its support base in the areas inhabited by Rajbanshis, the saffron camp has triggered intra-party resentment, as also strong protests by the common citizens
Ever since the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland raised its head, parts of north Bengal once a hotbed of Left radical agitation has been perennial source of worry to successive state governments. Both the Left Front and Trinamool Congress dispensation succeeding it faced this spectre of separate state being carved out of already truncated Bengal.
After Trinamool government called the bluff of the proponents of Gorkhaland and managed to splinter its supporters, the demand for a separate state has dimmed. But Darjeeling parliamentary constituency was earlier one of the safest seats of BJP in this state as the NDA government has never dismissed the statehood demand outright.
Ananta Maharaj, the BJP candidate for Rajya Sabha from this state has been longtime champion for the formation of a separate Kamtapur state. It would comprise parts of Coochbehar district and portions of lower Assam.
While the idea of state of Kamtapur is a anathema to Trinamool leadership, the party supremo Mamata Banerjee is not unaware of Ananta’s influence over Rajbanshis. Instead of being dismissed as a political upstart, the chief minister has attended several programmes hosted by this “separatist leader” and invited him to several government functions.
Like the BJP leadership, the TMC supremo too had in her mind that Rajbanshi votes are a deciding factor in three Lok Sabha seats in north Bengal. The votes of this community can tilt the scale in nearly half of the 54 Assembly segments in this part of the state.
Yet several BJP leaders are worried that supporting the candidature of this Rajbanshi leader in July 24 Rajya Sabha elections can backfire on the electoral prospects of the saffron camp in south Bengal, come 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Already partitioned in 1947, there are strong feelings against any further separation, a senior BJP leader requesting anonymity said.
In fact, confusion has arisen among the ranks of the principal Opposition party in the state over its leadership choosing Ananta Maharaj, a proponent of Kamtapur after party chief JP Nadda had once stated that no BJP leader will speak on separate statehood. But supporting the candidature of a person whose principal political platform is a separate state goes against a policy laid down by the party chief himself, it was felt.
Several senior BJP leaders are of the view that credibility of the party before a larger vote bank is being compromised to ensure Rajbanshi votes. It could be a game changer against the BJP nominees in the coming elections as given the present state of events in which the Trinamool will go about in Lok Sabha campaign that it has nothing to do with Ananta Maharaj seeking a separate state.
State BJP chief Sukanta Majumdar felt that choosing Ananta Maharaj to be the BJP nominee in Rajya Sabha has been a move to voice the demands of the people of north Bengal. There are takers for this contention as a grouse exists on the alleged unequal distribution of funds between northern and southern parts of the state with several north Bengal leaders complaining of a tilt towards the south.
A self styled king cannot be a part of a democracy, senior Trinamool leader and agriculture minister, Sovandeb Chattopadhayay said. The decision is a pointer to the BJP’s hypocritical stand on keeping the state united, he added.
Apart from apprehension of Trinamool using Ananta’s passage to Rajya Sabha having BJP support as campaign fodder, there are other factors giving jitters to the saffron camp on this issue. Ananta Maharaj turning out to be the party’s choice to Rajya Sabha would send a wrong signal to the party think tank and veteran leaders.
The party supporting candidature of a supporter to a separatist movement brushed aside the claims of Swapan Dasgupta and Anirban Gangopadhayay, both of whom have been the acceptable faces of the party in the intellectual and academic circles of the state. In fact, the saffron camp’s champions among the intellectuals of the state are fewer than the Left and the TMC.
The claims to a Rajya Sabha seat of former state party chief, Rahul Sinha and party spokesman and former legislator Shamik Bhattacharya not being considered underscore the contention of a non-political person like Ananta being given precedence. If the Rajbanshi leader is known for his influence on his community, a senior leader said why discard the claim of actor politician Mithun Chakraborty who has a wider appeal and is a bigger draw as he showed during 2021 Assembly election campaign. (IPA Service)