NEW DELHI: As BJP gears up for its first big battle for West Bengal, the party is unlikely to declare a chief ministerial face to take on “Didi” who continues to remain a mass leader in the state. But the party with three assembly seats in 2016, has more than half a dozen aspirants for the post, since it won 18 parliamentary seats in 2019.
BJP which has been trying hard for names to fit a “bhadrolok” face to lead its charge in the state that has so far remained elusive to it, may actually be looking at a problem of plenty in the run up to the elections beginning on March 27, especially with a procession of new entrants from TMC crossing over and queering the pitch for old timers.
The names doing the rounds as aspirants in Kolkata and Delhi BJP circles includes a wide range.
State BJP chief Dilip Ghosh, a former RSS pracharak, known for his rustic, street-fighting image, has survived infighting in the state unit, made inroads in rural pockets and has an image who can take on aggressive TMC cadre. But with detractors within the party, unabated outlandish public remarks (like cow urine having gold or being a cure for Covid19, etc) and a lack of sophistication in his personal style that makes him unacceptable to the middle-class Bengali, go against him. His comfort level with spoken Hindi, rather than fluent Bangla, has made him conspicuous and fitted the TMC narrative of BJP being a “party run by outsiders.” Ghosh has never denied that he is in the running, while replying to media questions on the issue several times.
Moving to Kolkata-bred names, one of the first ones to throw his hat into the ring was 75 years old party veteran and former Meghalaya governor Tathagata Roy. An engineer by training Roy is also brother of TMC leader Saugata Roy. A biographer of Jan Sangh ideologue Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, Roy too has made it amply clear on several occasions that he is “ready” to take on the top job if the party is willing. However, his regular controversial remarks, even as governor of Tripura or Meghalaya could come in the way of his acceptability by all, if not his age.
Delhi based former journalist, columnist and Rajya Sabha member Swapan Dasgupta is among aspirants. He is now regularly tasked by the party to involve himself with the state’s politics. Often spotted with central BJP leaders visiting Bengal, Oxford University alumni Dasgupta, has been away from the state since his college days in the early 70s. The erudite English-speaking Dasgupta’s inexperience in politics could be a hurdle for a politically charged state like Bengal. He himself has reacted to media speculations earlier with “the first thing is to win the elections… the question of chief minister will come later.”
RSS in-charge of south Bengal, Jishnu Basu’s name is talked about in closed circles. A scientist from Jadavpur University and associated with the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, middle-aged Basu was an active proponent of BJP’s NRC and CAA policies in the state.
With the entry of TMC’s Midnapore strongman Suvendu Adhikary into BJP, the list would have to include the ambitious former TMC minister. He has been trying to gauge his political clout in the state with chief ministerial aspirations, much before switching sides. There is talk of BJP offering him deputy chief ministerial post if it wins.
While central minister and two times MP from Asansol Babul Supriyo, also a popular playback singer from the Bombay film industry has his following, the party has been active in getting cricket icon Saurav Ganguly on board for a long time. Speculation has been rife about BJP roping in him since “Dada” beat Brijesh Patel to become surprise BCCI president, after Union home minister Amit Shah’s late-night moves along with Shah’s son Jayesh at his side. In terms of a popular face, to counter Banerjee BJP has been looking Ganguly. But his recent heart ailment is likely to come in the way.
Meanwhile, the Bengal elections have been pitched as a Modi versus Mamata battle.