Lok Sabha polls 2024 | High-profile Barrackpore braces for close contest between TMC minister and BJP ‘turncoat’

It’s a deja vu at Barrackpore in North 24 Parganas district where Arjun Singh entered the fray on a BJP ticket after being denied nomination by TMC chief Mamata Banerjee, mirroring events from five years ago when he switched to the BJP from TMC to win the 2019 polls only to jump back to the TMC three years later.
Last Updated : 30 April 2024, 07:03 IST
Last Updated : 30 April 2024, 07:03 IST

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Kolkata: The electoral battle in the Barrackpore Lok Sabha constituency in West Bengal is likely to be a nip and tuck affair where the TMC faces an uphill task of trumping the BJP nominee's 'bahubali factor' to wrest the seat from the saffron camp.

It’s a deja vu at Barrackpore in North 24 Parganas district where Arjun Singh entered the fray on a BJP ticket after being denied nomination by TMC chief Mamata Banerjee, mirroring events from five years ago when he switched to the BJP from Trinamool to win the 2019 polls only to jump back to the TMC three years later.

Singh said he felt “betrayed” by Banerjee before crossing over to the BJP again in March this year and securing nomination from the saffron party.

The TMC named its Naihati MLA and state minister Partha Bhowmick, a debutant in parliamentary politics hailing from the same district, to counter the BJP's challenge.

Political analysts said TMC's prospect largely depends on the kind of lead Bhowmik manages to gain in Singh's home turf Naihati and in Amdanga, an assembly segment high concentration of minority voters.

"Arjun is a factor to reckon with in Barrackpore. A significant portion of Hindi speakers from the region will always vote for him irrespective of his party allegiance. That’s his USP," political analyst Biswanath Chakraborty told PTI.

His allusion was to the 30-35 per cent of Hindi-speaking voters, particularly concentrated in the constituency’s jute belt.

There was initial euphoria over the consecration of the Ram temple in Ayodhya among the Hindi speakers, though that excitement seems to be fading now, said Chakraborty, Rabindra Bharati University's Political Science professor.

Bhowmick, however, felt that Singh's 'so-called influence' is confined only to Bhatpara, one of the seven assembly segments in Barrackpore.

"Why did the BJP lose the Jagatdal assembly seat in the 2021 elections? Why could he not use his ‘influence’ to win the six other assembly seats which the TMC won in 2021? It is my home turf, and people know me well. There is no influence of the BJP candidate among a vast section of voters," the TMC nominee said.

Singh stated that fighting elections against a former party colleague gave him an advantage.

"Some TMC workers who were disappointed with the selection of Barrackpore candidate are openly supporting me, while some, who are secretly keeping in touch with me, will also vote for the BJP to register their grievances against their party leadership," he told PTI.

Told that his repeated fluctuations between parties may not go down well with old-timers of the saffron camp, he said, "People will vote for Narendra Modi ji."

The 'turncoat' label would 'not be a major challenge' to Singh, Chakraborty maintained.

"There were whispers that Singh continued to be in touch with the BJP's central and state leaders even during his two-year stint with TMC from 2022. There were no protests by local BJP leaders when he rejoined the saffron camp," he observed.

"A substantial lead in Amdanga, where sizable Muslim voters hold a key for TMC, as well as in Naihati is necessary for Bhowmick to overcome Singh's influence over Bhatpara, Jagatdal and Barrackpore assembly segments," Chakraborty explained.

What would be Singh’s poll strategy in Barrackpore where the BJP has only one MLA?

"When the TMC wrested the seat from the CPI(M) in 2009, the party was in a similar situation. I had extensively worked with TMC candidate Dinesh Trivedi then," Singh said, reminding that he went on to win the seat in 2019 by a margin of over 14,000 votes by defeating the same TMC nominee.

Bhowmick alleged that electors will choose TMC to protest 'the 2019 post-poll violence perpetrated by Singh after winning the seat last time'.

"Voters will give him a befitting reply to his opportunistic politics and switching sides," he said.

Asked about the impact of corruption charges against the TMC on his winning prospects, he said the party maintained 'a zero-tolerance policy and expelled those involved in irregularities' while the 'BJP is providing shelters to those accused in crimes'.

Political analyst Subhomay Maitra asserted that the constituency would witness a close fight between the BJP and the TMC.

"Middle-class Bengali voters, who are mentally opposed to muscle and money power, may choose among the CPI(M) nominee Debdut Ghosh, a prominent theatre personality, and the TMC candidate who is also connected to cultural domains. A section of these voters may have reservations about Singh changing sides but the BJP candidate will certainly influence those belonging to low-income groups," he said.

Maitra maintained that the CPI(M)'s vote share in Barrackpore is likely to increase this time and disrupt poll arithmetic of the Trinamool Congress and BJP.

"Unlike in previous occasions there is no infighting within the Left and that could help it gain the vote share. This swing will either come from the BJP's kitty or that of TMC. The candidate whose votes the CPI(M) will eat into will be hit hard," Maitra said.

The CPI(M)'s vote share in the 2019 elections was 10.63 per cent.

Unfazed with the 'underdog' tag, Ghosh said people were fed up with 'BJP-TMC joint loots” and their 'tacit understanding for holding on to power”.

"Barrackpore is a fertile land for the Left. Pre-poll surveys indicate that the CPI(M) will do better here. People will vote against the TMC's misrule and the BJP's communal polarization politics," the Congress-backed Left candidate said.

Nearly 15 lakh voters are eligible to exercise their franchise in Barrackpore which will go to the hustings on May 20 during the fifth phase of elections.

Published 30 April 2024, 07:03 IST

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