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LS polls: TMC, BJP favour turncoats over seasoned leaders in Bengal

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West Bengal CM and TMC chief Mamata Banerjee addresses an election campaign rally ahead of Lok Sabha polls, at Dhubuliya, in Nadia, Sunday, March 31, 2024.

West Bengal CM and TMC chief Mamata Banerjee addresses an election campaign rally ahead of Lok Sabha polls, at Dhubuliya, in Nadia, Sunday, March 31, 2024.

Kolkata: In the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections in West Bengal, both the ruling TMC and the opposition BJP are adopting a common strategy of favouring turncoats over seasoned leaders in their candidate selections.

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Once scorned in Bengal's political realm, both parties are increasingly embracing the practice of endorsing turncoats, causing dissatisfaction among their loyal supporters.

The TMC, in its roster of 42 candidates, has included four turncoats who are either elected representatives from other parties or joined the party in recent years.

The party's candidate list also features three other nominees, currently serving as either MPs or MLAs under the TMC banner, yet with a history of affiliations with different parties or previous public representations.

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On the contrary, the BJP has nominated five turncoats out of the 40 seats announced thus far.

Both parties have justified their decisions, citing "winnability and political strategy" as paramount considerations.

However, the nomination of turncoats has triggered protests and resentment against both the TMC and the BJP in certain regions.

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Despite acknowledging the risks associated with nominating turncoats, leaders from both parties admit that "there is no guarantee of their allegiance".

TMC's Rajya Sabha MP Sukhendu Sekhar Roy remarked, "It is not that we lack competent leaders for nominations. However, in politics, various factors must be considered. Winability and the party's strategy are paramount." In the 2019 elections, TMC secured 22 seats, BJP won 18, and Congress bagged two. Although 16 of the 23 incumbent MPs were retained, the TMC opted not to renominate seven, notably excluding BJP defector Arjun Singh from Barrackpore.

The candidate list showcased 26 fresh faces, including 11 political novices. Notably, none of the candidates who lost in the previous polls was offered candidature this time.

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Among the notable turncoats fielded by the TMC are Biswajit Das, Mukutmani Adhikari, and Krishna Kalyani, contesting from Bongaon, Ranaghat, and Raiganj Lok Sabha seats respectively.

All three are presently BJP MLAs who switched allegiance to the TMC but have yet to resign as legislators.

"The BJP has done nothing for the masses and that is why I felt that the TMC is the best platform to serve the people of the state," Adhikari, who is contesting from the Matua-dominated Ranaghat seat, said.

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Another prominent candidate, Sujata Mondal from Bishnupur, is a former BJP leader and ex-wife of BJP MP Soumitra Khan. Mondal unsuccessfully contested the assembly polls on a TMC ticket in 2021.

Meanwhile, actor-turned-politician Shatrughan Sinha, who won the Asansol seat in a bypoll on a TMC ticket in 2022, has been renominated from the same seat.

Sinha, a former union minister and two-term BJP MP from Patna Sahib, had defected from the BJP to join the Congress ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls before joining the TMC in 2022.

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Abu Taher Khan, the TMC MP from Murshidabad, has been renominated from the seat. He is a former Congress MLA and TMC district president who joined the Mamata Banerjee-led party ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

Biplab Mitra, a TMC veteran who had briefly joined the BJP before returning to his former party ahead of the 2021 assembly polls, is also in the fray.

An senior TMC leader who refused to be named revealed that in constituencies where turncoats have been fielded, "the party lacks strong leaders to challenge sitting BJP MPs or were under compulsion due to infighting in local ranks." Similarly, the BJP has also entrusted turncoats with nominations over its established leaders.

BJP MP from Barrackpore, Arjun Singh, who returned to the saffron camp last month after defecting to the TMC two years ago, was re-nominated from the seat.

Tapas Roy, a four-term MLA from TMC, joined the BJP due to disagreements over candidate selection and was nominated from Kolkata North.

"I was fed up with the misrule of the TMC, that is why I decided to join the BJP and serve the people," he said.

Silbhadra Dutta, a two-term TMC MLA who switched to the BJP ahead of the 2021 assembly polls, was nominated from the Dum Dum Lok Sabha seat.

Soumendu Adhikari, former TMC leader and chairman of TMC-led Kanthi municipality, is contesting from Kanthi. He switched sides after his elder brother Suvendu Adhikari joined the BJP.

From the Howrah Lok Sabha seat, Rathin Chakraborty, a former TMC leader and ex-mayor of Howrah, who joined the BJP ahead of the 2021 assembly polls, has been nominated.

"It is mostly winnability that has led to the party deciding to nominate turncoats, and in many constituencies, we don't have good leaders and strong organisation to take on the TMC," a senior BJP leader said.

Until a few decades ago, political defections and the nomination of turncoats were rare in West Bengal, with politicians primarily identified by their ideological convictions.

However, with the rise of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in 1998, defections from the Congress became more common.

This trend intensified after the TMC came to power in 2011. The BJP has also welcomed several turncoats from the TMC since the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

In the last assembly polls, the TMC fielded around 20 turncoats out of 294 candidates, while the BJP nominated nearly 148 turncoats, including 22 MLAs and one MP. However, despite their nominations, most of them failed to win.

According to political analyst Biswanath Chakraborty, the dependency on turncoats by both parties is due to a lack of grooming of youth leaders.

"In the last decade, politics in Bengal has largely revolved around turncoats, mainly due to the dearth of homegrown leaders. Ideology and policies have taken a back seat," he said.

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