Lok Sabha Polls 2024 | BJP, TMC contenders for Medinipur face more resistance internally than from opposition

The 14-lakh plus voters of Medinipur are eligible to exercise their franchise in the sixth phase of polls on May 25.
Last Updated : 11 May 2024, 09:02 IST
Last Updated : 11 May 2024, 09:02 IST

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Medinipur (WB): Medinipur is probably the only Lok Sabha seat in West Bengal where both the prime contenders, the BJP and the TMC, seem more troubled with resistance from within than from the opposition outside.

Should pollsters choose to add yet another layer of political complexity to the seat, there are those who view the battle for Medinipur as that taking place between current and former TMC supporters, roughly translated into followers of party supremo Mamata Banerjee and turncoat Suvendu Adhikari, with both rooting for candidates of their choice.

What could have been a cakewalk for the BJP is now an arena where the fight is thrown wide open, with the saffron camp deciding to relocate popular sitting MP and former state party president Dilip Ghosh to Bardhaman-Durgapur, replacing him with the party's state Mahila Morcha president Agnimitra Paul as its candidate for Medinipur.

Paul, a Kolkata-based fashion designer and sitting Asansol Dakshin MLA, has had a meteoric rise in the BJP since she was inducted into the party, ironically by Ghosh, in March 2019. She has been elevated to the rank of party state general secretary.

Though critics attribute the candidate reshuffle in Medinipur to the BJP's internal power struggle between the Ghosh and Adhikari camps representing 'veterans' and 'newcomers' respectively, the former has accepted the fresh challenge to prove his mettle in a hitherto uncharted territory without complaint.

But that hasn't stopped aggrieved Ghosh followers from either hanging up their boots in the run-up to the polls or jumping ship to the opponent camp.

One such disgruntled BJP veteran and Kharagpur-based businessman, 56-year-old Pradip Patnaik, joined the TMC as late as May 5 and confided in PTI about his reasons to quit the party he served for 44 years.

"I gave my blood and sweat to the BJP since the 1980s when it barely had a handful of supporters in the state. I fought the parliamentary and assembly polls on the party ticket from here, where I was born and raised. But today, I find this place unsuitable for old-timers, who are cornered and are not respected," Patnaik said.

Paul, however, stated that "initial differences" have now been ironed out, thanks to some key role played by "the Sangh, Adhikari and the party's central leadership".

"Medinipur was never on my radar. I was hoping for a ticket from Bardhaman-Durgapur since I have my roots there. But when Amit Shah ji asked me whether I would be comfortable with contesting from here, I accepted it without a question since I felt my seniors must have put thought before making such a decision.

"Now, I find they were correct since we have a solid organisation here with a large number of pro-Modi voters. Leaders here now realise I was Modi ji's choice and all debates were automatically put to rest," Paul said.

Actor-turned-politician June Maliah, TMC's Medinipur MLA, is Mamata Banerjee's trump card from this seat. Maliah replaced former Congress-turned-TMC leader Manas Bhunia who lost the 2019 polls by nearly 89,000 votes.

The change in candidates in both camps has, however, left the electorate of this mostly rural south Bengal constituency privy to representatives of the glamour world toil for political glory in the heat and dust of the land that has given innumerable freedom fighters including Khudiram Bose and Matangini Hazra, social reformers like Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and patrons of art like Sisir Kumar Bhaduri.

But for Maliah, who has experienced the bitter taste of TMC's factional fights in the region, the job could be just as daunting as her rival from the BJP.

Local political observers highlighted the party's internal feuds frequently popping up its ugly hydra-head with Medinipur Municipality chairman Soumen Khan on one side of the divide and the party's influential local leader Bishu Pandab on the other.

Both Mamata Banerjee and her nephew Abhishek are believed to have repeatedly called for a united face in the party's closed-door meetings in the run up to the polls.

"Show me one political party in India which doesn't have internal differences. Even families have fractured opinions. It's only human," Maliah argued.

"The grassroots workers have accepted me and if you notice my nomination rally, it was nothing short of a carnival. I am not perturbed because people will vote for me for my integrity and the vigour with which I have worked as an MLA. Leaders here realise that it's the survival of the fittest, in both rank and file. There's no choice but to emerge as winner," she asserted.

The relatively silent, albeit impactful, challenge to both TMC and BJP may come from the Left, with CPI candidate Biplab Bhatta trying his luck for the second consecutive time. The seat had remained a Left stronghold for a good 25 years till the TMC wrested it from CPI in 2014.

In 2019, Bhatta had managed barely 4.4 per cent of the votes polled, registering a dip of about 27 per cent vote share from the party's earlier performance.

"Last time, supporters of the Left had voted for the BJP out of disgust for the TMC. But during my campaigning this time, I find strong indications of their 'ghar wapsi'," Bhatta said.

He highlighted the grievances of central government employees in Kharagpur working in the Railways, the Air Force and at IIT, and claimed those would have adverse impact on BJP's poll fortunes.

"The Railway employees spread over the 22 bustees in Kharagpur are suffering the plight of having to live without electricity, piped drinking water and other municipal facilities. They are threatened with eviction notices every now and then. Our priority is to meet their demands, should we win," Bhatta said.

The 14-lakh plus voters of Medinipur are eligible to exercise their franchise in the sixth phase of polls on May 25.

Published 11 May 2024, 09:02 IST

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