Depending on the star power of actor-politician Shatrughan Sinha and the appeal among the Hindi-speaking masses, TMC is hoping to win the Asansol Lok Sabha seat, trying to block external tags in the ‘Bihari Babu’ industrial city. The ruling party of Bengal, which has never tasted success in the vote-dependent Asansol except for the other four parliamentary constituencies in the state, is pulling all the stops to break the jinx.
Trinamool Congress West Burdwan convener V Shivdasan Dasu said, “We are hopeful that Sinha, who is very popular among the people, will be able to win the seat for us.” Lok Sabha by-elections scheduled for April. 12, former Union Minister and two-time MP Babul Supriya was forced to resign from Parliament last year after defecting from the BJP to the TMC.
The Saffron Party, on its part, is working hard to retain the seat it won twice for the popular camp in 2014 and 2019 – as it fielded Agnimitra Paul, a fashion designer-cum-saffron camp member, to fight Sinha. Supriya, who quit the BJP after being dropped from the Union Ministry, is contesting on a TMC ticket for the Baliganj Assembly by-election to be held alongside the Asansol elections.
The Lok Sabha by-election has revived the ‘internal-external’ debate, a ballot paper that helped the TMC defeat the BJP in last year’s Assembly elections, this time towards the end of the ruling TMC, as the BJP fired all guns to project Sinha as an “external”. For 6 An industrial belt known for its coal mines, steel industry and Chittaranjan locomotives, Asansol in West Burdwan district is the second largest and most populous city in West Bengal after Kolkata, according to the 2011 census.
About 1.5 million voters in Asansol are coal miners, factory workers and small business owners. About 45 per cent of the voters speak Hindi and have their roots in Jharkhand, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The area is home to about 15 percent of the minority population. According to TMC sources, nominating the two-time Patna Sahib MP, who has worked in Delhi for a better part of his political career, is part of the party’s national campaign strategy.
Popularly known as ‘Shotgun’ to fans for his straightforward dialogue in the film, Sinha, who joined the TMC after his four-decade stint in the BJP and a short innings in Congress, rejected the “external” tag given by his rivals “I am less than other Bengalis”. I am not a Bengali. I am not a foreigner. I have always loved the Bengali language and Bengali culture. I have done a lot of films in Bengali, and the Bengali language I speak is not dubbed, “Sinha told PTI, known for his signature dialogue. The former Union Minister in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s cabinet said, “Like my ‘Janmabhoomi’ (birthplace) Bihar, Bengali has always been my heart.”
In contrast, Paul, the BJP candidate and MLA from Asansol South, wondered what the TMC would say now about branding BJP leaders in other states as outsiders before last year’s assembly elections. “I was born and raised here. I am a MLA from this area. But the TMC candidate has no connection with West Bengal or this place. The TMC called the BJP leaders ‘outsiders’ during the Assembly polls. They must explain this duality,” he said. He said he was confident his team would be able to hold on to the seat.
A senior TMC leader, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the party had fielded Sinha to distance itself from the Bengali sub-nationalist vote plan, which was proving to be an obstacle to the party’s national expansion plan. “We have adopted Bengali sub-nationalism to deal with the BJP in the Assembly elections. This is now proving to be a serious problem. Like Sinha, we are trying to give the party a Pan-India appeal, “he said.
The Asansol Lok Sabha constituency was originally a stronghold of the Congress until the late eighties. In 1989, however, it became the base of the CPI (M). The table turned in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections because the people of Asansol voted for Supriya, the then political greenhorn, the BJP won the seat. Supriya, who received 36.75 per cent vote share in 2014, retained the West Burdwan seat in 2019, increasing her vote share to 51.16 per cent. The TMC, however, has made a steady and strong recovery in the industrial sector in the 2021 assembly elections as it has won five of the seven assembly seats in the area.
The BJP has accused the TMC government of neglecting constituencies during its by-election campaign, citing a coal theft scandal that the CBI is investigating. The Mamata Banerjee-led party has claimed that the Saffron Shibir is using the Central Investigation Agency to harass party leaders in the coal scandal. In addition to the BJP and TMC, the CPI (M) and the Congress are also on the ground.
CPI (M) leader Sujan Chakraborty reiterated that there was hardly any difference between the ruling party and the main opposition camp in Bengal. “The people of Asansol will vote for us because the change of Babul Supriya camp has proved that TMC and BJP are both sides of the same coin,” he said. The results of the April 16 by-elections will be announced
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