NEW DELHI: As BJP gears up for its first big battle for West Bengal, against Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, it is unlikely to declare a chief ministerial face to take on “Didi”. Mamata continues to remain a mass leader, as she seeks a third term in office. But the party with three assembly seats in 2016, now has more than half a dozen aspirants for the post, after it won 18 of the 42 parliamentary seats in 2019.
BJP has been trying hard for names to fit a “bhadrolok” face to lead its charge in the state that has so far remained elusive to it. It may actually have an array to pick from, in the run up to the polls beginning on March 27. It is especially with a procession of new entrants from TMC crossing over and queering the pitch for old timers.
The names doing the rounds as aspirants in Kolkata and Delhi BJP circles include a wide range. But cricket icon and Bengali hero, Saurav Ganguly is the only name that BJP seems to be aspiring for. Even after his recent health condition (heart issues), the buzz on Ganguly is only getting stronger by the day.
BJP started wooing Ganguly at least a decade ago. But real speculation on “Dada” taking on “Didi” has been rife since he became BCCI president in a surprise move, with Union home minister Amit Shah’s son Jayesh at his side.
State BJP chief Dilip Ghosh, a former RSS pracharak, known for his rustic, street-fighting ways, has survived infighting in the state unit. He has made inroads in rural pockets and has an aggressive image to take on TMC cadre. But with detractors within the party- his unabated, outlandish public remarks (like cow urine having gold or being a cure for Covid-19) make him unacceptable to the middle-class Bengali. His comfort level with Hindi, rather than Bangla, has made him conspicuous and fits the TMC narrative of BJP being a “party run by outsiders.” Ghosh has never denied being in the running, while speaking to the media several times.
Moving to Kolkata-bred names, one of the first ones to throw his hat into the ring was 75 years old party veteran and former Meghalaya governor Tathagata Roy. An engineer by training, Roy is also brother of TMC leader Saugata Roy. A biographer of Jan Sangh ideologue Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, Roy too has made it amply clear on several occasions that he is “ready” to take on the top job if the party is willing. However, his regular controversial remarks, could come in the way of his acceptability by all, if not his age.
Delhi-based columnist and Rajya Sabha member Swapan Dasgupta is a regular now on BJP’s Bengal beat. He is tasked by the party to involve himself with the state’s politics. Often spotted with central BJP leaders visiting Bengal, the Oxford University alumni has been away from the state since his college days in the early 70s. English-speaking Dasgupta’s inexperience in politics could be a hurdle. He himself has reacted to media speculations earlier with “the first thing is to win the elections…” line.
RSS functionary Jishnu Basu’s name is talked about only in closed circles. A scientist from Jadavpur University and associated with the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, middle-aged Basu was an active proponent of BJP’s NRC and CAA policies in the state.
The entry of former TMC strongman from Midnapore, Suvendu Adhikari, into BJP, means the ambitious ex-state minister’s name will have to be included in the shortlist. The Nandigram leader has been measuring his political acceptance as chief minister. The talk is about BJP offering him deputy chief minister if it wins.
Central minister and Asansol MP Babul Supriyo, a popular Bollywood singer has also been on the list but seems to be fading out.
Meanwhile, the Bengal elections have been pitched as a Modi versus Mamata battle.