In the 5th phase of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, 7 seats from West Bengal went into polls. While violence and rigging occurred sporadically as expected, the BJP candidate from Barrackpore, Arjun Singh, was attacked by goons associated with Trinamool Congress.
Singh had jumped ship earlier this year in March to join the BJP. According to reports, he was hopeful of receiving a ticket from Barrackpore but was denied by Mamata Banerjee. The Trinamool candidate, instead, is Dinesh Trivedi, another senior leader of the party. Singh is now contesting the Lok Sabha elections from Barrackpore on a BJP ticket.
Singh’s departure from Trinamool exposed the growing rifts within the party. While Mamata had declared that there were no hard feelings among people for not receiving tickets for the elections, it’s quite evident that it is certainly not the case. The rise and rise of BJP in the state have given these disgruntled leaders a viable alternative where their efforts are given their due.
The former Trinamool leader, who is the sitting MLA from Bhatpara, was an important asset to Mamata Banerjee. He is known to have a great influence from North Kolkata to Nadia and has important local connections. In 2014, he worked hard for Dinesh Trivedi who went on to win from Barrackpore.
Singh had won the Bhatpara Assembly seat four consecutive times as a Trinamool candidate. He is known to be extremely popular among the Hindi-speaking people in the state.
If people are to be believed, Mamata Banerjee’s appeasement politics contributed to his defection as there was much angst on the ground against such policies. After quitting the party, Singh had very harsh words to offer to the TMC supremo.
“I gave 30 years to Mamata Banerjee. I was shocked at her comments on the Pulwama terror attack. Her statement has shaken the country. When the Indian Air Force carried out the strike, she demanded the body count of terrorists. If a leader does not have national interest on her mind then she cannot do any good to her voters,” Singh had said. “Earlier the TMC used to stand for Maa, Mati, Manush, now it is only money, money and money,” he had also said.
The Battle for Barrackpore has long-term implications for the future of West Bengal politics. Should Singh succeed in winning the seat, it would augment his already elevated position in the BJP. It could further lead to a string of local Trinamool leaders jumping ship. His success could also inspire other disgruntled leaders within the party to look for greener pastures in the BJP. Therefore, it is an important seat to win for both parties.
Arjun Singh’s candidature is also a reflection of BJP’s strategy in West Bengal. While the state unit of the party lacks a leader that commands anywhere near as much popularity as Mamata Banerjee, the BJP is slowly eating away at her base by inducting local strongman within the party who enjoy considerable popularity within their own area or constituencies. Mamata is particularly nervous as her organizational strength is being weakened by the continuous defections. Thus, the Barrackpore seat, in certain ways, is a litmus test for BJP’s strategy in West Bengal.