Which Way The ‘Bengali Bhadralok’ Will Vote?

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Rudranil Ghosh, a popular comedian and actor, wanted to contest from Howrah, his native place. But the BJP nominated him from Bhawanipur, the constituency represented by Chief Minister and TMC chief Mamata Banerjee.

But as Banerjee contested from Nandigram this time, her minister Shobhandeb Chattopadhyay is the candidate from the constituency. On the day of dolyatra (Holi), both the candidates came together and celebrated the day. But just after a few days, Rudranil was furious after allegedly being attacked and heckled by the TMC.

The hit and dust of the election are leaving almost everybody scathed in Bengal. It was common in rural Bengal. But if it has touched Kolkata, the citadel of ‘Bengali bhadralok’, it signifies a tough neck-to-neck fight is on.

And that is bad news for the TMC, for even in 2019, the bhadralok, were rather solidly with the TMC. In fact, Kolkata was traditionally a bastion of the Congress. Even in the days of Left Front rule, the red force could not dominate Kolkata. After TMC was formed, it fought the first Lok Sabha polls in 1998 in alliance with the BJP, and the combination dominated Kolkata and its suburb. Though later it faced some setbacks, it has established absolute dominance over the region from where about 40 representatives are returned to the assembly. But things may not be easy this time.

Joydeb Roy, a resident of North Kolkata and a sales representative, explains this new phenomenon in his own way. “Till the last Lok Sabha election, in Kolkata and its suburb the BJP had no organisation and only a few workers. The people of this region, as well as further south towards the Sunderbans, were not aware of a BJP wave elsewhere. The media did not talk about it either. But now people know, and in the last two years BJP has popped up an organisational structure.” He feels it will be a neck to neck fight this time.

While elsewhere in Bengal, a major factor working in favour of the BJP is the fear psychosis among the Hindus, it may not be a driving force for the urban people living in and around Kolkata. In 2019, the BJP was leading in Bidhan Nagar assembly constituency (i.e. Salt Lake area, a prominent suburb of Kolkata), and in that election polarisation was not in count. The people of Bidhan Nagar supported Narendra Modi’s development agenda. This time, added with polarisation, the ‘double engine’ (government of the same party at centre and in the state) campaign may attract a large number of voters of this region.

Not many constituencies of this region will see a high profile contest. The TMC has retained most of its MLAs as candidates from this region. Some of them are ministers, like Firhad Hakim (Kolkata Port), Arup Biswas (Tollygunge), Partha Chatterjee (Behala Paschim), Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay (Bhawanipur), Subrata Mukherjee (Ballygunge) and so on. Among them, Subrata Mukherjee was sent to Bankura to retain the Lok Sabha seat in 2019, but he was swept away by the BJP wave that was felt in northern and western parts of Bengal. BJP has fielded one Loknath Chatterjee against him this time. He is a local worker and no high profile man.

In fact, in most cases BJP leaders have fielded such grass-root workers as candidates in this region, some of them are those who left TMC to join the party in last two years. Only one seat will witness a high profile fight, and that is Tollygunge, where Union Minister Babul Supriyo is fighting it out with Arup Biswas, the man who has been accused of controlling the Tollygunge film industry. Three prominent actresses (Shrabanti Chatterjee, Parno Mitra and Anjana Basu) are also in the fray in this region as BJP candidates. TMC too have their star candidates like Nayana Bandopadhyay.

Interestingly, the BJP has not tried to compress the bhadralok voters with intellectual candidates. Intellectuals like Ashok Lahiri and Swapan Dasgupta have been sent to rural constituencies. From the TMC, the present minister and famous dramatist Bratya Basu is contesting from this region.

(The author Diptendra Raychaudhuri is a senior journalist based in Kolkata. He has a wide range of experience in covering West Bengal politics and has authored several books)

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