The Bharatiya Janata Party’s craze to field eminent figures of different walks of life deserves proper examination. At the same time, it exposes the shortage of talented and seasoned politicians in the West Bengal—or even Kerala—unit of the party.
For example, the saffron party decided not only to make 89-year old Metro Man, E Sreedharan, a candidate but also made him the chief ministerial face in Kerala, where there is hardly any prospect of the party coming to power.
It would have been in the fitness of the thing had personalities like Sreedharan, former Chief Economic Advisor to the government of India, Ashok Lahiri, who is a member of the 15th Finance Commission; the retired Commanding Officer of the Srinagar-based 15th Corp, Lt Gen Subrata Saha and former Senior Editor of the Times of India and noted columnist Swapan Dasgupta been nominated to the Rajya Sabha. The last named was actually a member of the Upper House of Parliament till the middle of March. They could have even been fielded for the Upper House by any party—the BJP in this case. One can cite the example of S Jaishankar, Nirmala Seetharaman and M J Akbar as they all went on to become ministers in the Narendra Modi cabinet. Former PM Manmohan Singh, a reputed economist, was a Rajya Sabha MP from Assam for about three decades.
Men like M J Akbar have even contested Lok Sabha election at the peak of their career.
But by accepting the BJP’s offer to contest election for a state Assembly these four noted figures of their respective fields have put their reputation at stake.
According to the media reports even Bollywood personality Mithun Chakravarty, who joined the BJP at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally on March 7, and former Indian cricket team captain, Saurav Ganguly, who is now the President of BCCI, were among the probables for the Assembly election. Saurav reportedly showed no inclination in joining politics. Perhaps, he would like to go the Sachin Tendulkar way and expect nomination to the Rajya Sabha. Mithun had already been a Rajya Sabha MP of Trinamool Congress.
But today the situation is entirely different. Take the case of Syed Shahnawaz Husain, who became a cabinet rank minister in the then Atal Bihari Vajpayee ministry two decades back when he was in early 30s. but recently he had eagerly accepted to become an MLC and subsequently a minister in the Nitish Kumar cabinet in Bihar.
The big poser is as to why the BJP has fielded so many heavyweights. This list also includes several other names such as Union minister Babul Supriyo, former IPS Bharati Ghosh, a couple of film stars etc.
The interesting aspect is that the three above famous individuals accepted the offer of the party in West Bengal though their candidatures was marred by some sort of confusion. Ashok Lahiri was first fielded from Alipurduar, but his name had to be withdrawn following widespread revolt by the local unit of the party, which finally gave ticket to a district-level leader. Lahiri did not feel offended and agreed to contest from another seat offered by the party several days later.
Swapan Dasgupta had committed a gaffe by almost going to file nomination without resigning from the Rajya Sabha where he was a nominated member not attached to any party. His nomination might have been rejected had the Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra not tweeted in this regard.
Lt Gen Saha was perhaps not the first choice of the party from Rashbehari constituency. His name was announced as late as March 23 and media reports then suggested that this seat was left for Mithun Chakravarty to contest.
The problem is that the BJP performed so well in 2019 Lok Sabha election held in the backdrop of the nationalistic fervour and where Prime Minister Narendra Modi was successfully projected as the best man for the situation.
But two years later the circumstances are different. Organisationally the West Bengal unit has no personality equal to match the stature of Mamata Banerjee. The turncoats who were wooed from within the Trinamool Congress too were relatively small fries.
In the absence of any towering politician from within West Bengal—or even for that matter in Kerala–the saffron party was rather compelled to choose prominent names and throw them in the battle.
In the case of West Bengal perhaps these gentlemen started dreaming that they are the future chief minister of West Bengal, though on their own they may not even be able to win their seats.
By grasping the ticket for MLA without wasting any moment these intellectuals had exposed themselves to the charge that when it comes to power they too are as hungry as anyone else. At the same time, it gave an opportunity to the present political masters to boast that they can make anyone dance to their tune.
Soroor Ahmed is a senior journalist based in Patna. The views expressed are personal.