By Ashis Biswas
Political standards seem to have fallen to an all time low in West Bengal: the manipulative tactics adopted by the ruling Trinamool Congress(TMC) and the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) in announcing candidates for the Noapara Assembly seat by-election expose the rank political opportunism that prevails in the State.
For some reasons, the TMC put up Arjun Singh as its candidate for the by-polls, scheduled on Jan 29 this year. This upset Manju Basu, the TMC candidate, who lost very narrowly to Madhusudan Ghosh(Congress) in a razor edge contest in 2016. Ghosh(79) ,a cancer patient, had won with support from the Left Front. He died in Aug last year. In 2011, Basu had won the seat defeating the Left candidate by a handy margin.
Not concealing her chagrin over being bypassed, Manju Basu spoke freely to the media about her unexpected fall from favour. She expressed her anger at being sidelined and not being called to party meetings etc any longer. Senior TMC leaders remained evasive, but they never confirmed that she would be made the party candidate. The announcement of Singh, a close relative of one of the present favourite TMC leaders, came as no surprise.
As the TMC, the Left Front and the Congress all announced their candidates, the BJP initially decided to put up Sandip Banerjee, president of the Barrackpore BJP unit. However, at this stage, much to the annoyance of older battlers like party President Dilip Ghosh and others, Mukul Roy, whom many see as the new rising star within the growing saffron firmament, stepped in. He suggested that Manju Basu should be given the BJP ticket to contest the polls against the TMC, the party that ditched her.
He met Manju Basu. The latter also met Locket Chatterjee, leader of the BJP”s women’s wing. There were detailed talks, following which Roy spoke to his leaders in Delhi, including Kailash Vijaybargiya, who oversees Bengal matters.
All this time, TMC leaders like ministers Partha Chatterjee and Jyotipriya Mullick kept insisting that Manju would not switch camps. However, they were not sure of her intentions at first. Chatterjee clarified that in case she joined the BJP, she would make a mistake.
Long story short, state BJP leaders — no one knows under whose instructions! — announced to the media that Manju Basu was their candidate from Noapara. Manju, however, kept telling the media that while she had met BJP leaders and discussed politics, she had not taken any decision yet. She had also met senior TMC leaders like Nirmal Maji and others who visited her residence, trying to dissuade her from defecting to the BJP.
According to local reports, Manju Basu, no doubt for reasons of political discretion, neglected to mention that following Maji’s visit and other overtures, (including a phone call from the Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee), there were knots of TMC supporters guarding her residence. This could not be confirmed at any level, however. But TMC leaders insisted that her grievances ‘had been sorted out’, without going into specifics.
As soon as the BJP announced her as its candidate, Manju issued a prompt denial . She had never joined the BJP, which had requested her to do so, she said. For her, Mamata Banerjee was the leader, being both her ‘Didi and mother’! Nor did she reveal the terms of her new understanding with the TMC, but she promised all support for Arjun Singh, never mind her earlier plaintive wails about being passed over!
The BJP — particularly Roy and his new bunch of BJP followers, ended up with egg on their collective faces. Vijaybargiya, according to Kolkata reports, was angry over the fiasco and wondered who had made the formal announcement about Manju Basu contesting on a BJP ticket! Leaders like Ghosh and Rahul Sinha, whose reaction to Roy’s entry into the saffron party was never quite ecstatic, lost no time in confirming Sandip Banerjee as the party candidate.
His inner party rivals were not Roy’s only concern. TMC leaders Chatterjee and Mullick had a field day, declaring open season against the state BJP, using epithets usually not associated with standard political etiquette.
But again, the BJP had only itself to blame, for not learning from experience. There had earlier been the ludicrous instance of poor ladies in West Bengal villages feeding top party leaders like Anit Shah and Vijaybargiya, planned as the party’s big pro-poor photo-op — to be followed by one of them joining the TMC very next day! Surely, the party had known what to expect in the kind of fear-based politics that prevails in Bengal!
The state-based media’s coverage has been along expected lines. Most papers and TV channels have lost no time to crow over ‘the TMC’s major success in outwitting the dim-witted BJP yet again‘!
On the one hand, there is the sheer opportunism of Manju Basu, the obviously corrupting ways of the TMC in offering party dissidents instant sops to prevent them quitting and enforcing its dictat by muscle power; and on the other hand, there is Roy’s over eagerness to recruit unreliable deserters from the ruling party by offering them immediate posts, ignoring veteran local BJP workers —- the question arises as to who is worse.
And all this over a mere by-election! As one observer put it, “Truly these are sad days for West Bengal. Such Bengal politicians claim they serve the people by winning elections.”