No personal charisma involved in Arjun Singh’s win in 2019, say Barrackpore voters

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Sukamal Chowdhury was a top level executive in the private sector in Delhi. After his retirement in 2008, he returned to his ancestral home in Barrackpore, about 30 km north of Kolkata. He cast his vote in the Barrackpore Lok Sabha constituency for the first time in 2009.

“I voted for change. Though I left Barrackpore nearly 40 years ago, I kept myself updated about the happenings here. For six terms, since 1989, the CPI(M) had held on to this seat. This is an industrial belt with a significant percentage of the population having origins in Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh.

“Trade union activity brought the Left to power in Barrackpore. Gradually, as industries started winding up due to rabid trade union activity, strong arm tactics evolved. Illegal activities flourished under the patronage of political leaders and this constituency, with vast heritage pre-dating Kolkata’s claim to fame, fell upon bad times. So, when the Trinamool Congress fielded a gentleman like Dinesh Trivedi in 2009, I was happy and voted for him. So did many others. We were looking for change,” Chowdhury said.

His childhood friend Bibhas Roy, an entrepreneur, points to how Barrackpore turned into a fiefdom under the Left with politicians controlling nearly all economic activity and demanding a cut.

“Dinesh Trivedi’s 10-year-tenure between 2009 and 2019 was like a breadth of fresh air. However, good things don’t last long. Well before the 2019 general elections, it was evident that Trivedi’s good work hadn’t been appreciated by his party. Trivedi, being the gentleman as he is, agreed to contest the 2019 polls but Arjun Singh wanted the ticket. On being denied, he left the Trinamool Congress for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP wave was sweeping the country then and people in Bengal also wanted a change. That is how he pipped Trivedi by a margin of a mere 14,000-odd votes in 2019,” he said.

Arjun Singh has now quit the BJP and returned to the Trinamool Congress. People close to him claim that Singh had simply wanted to prove a point in 2019 after being denied a ticket by the Trinamool Congress. He had wanted to show the party that he is powerful enough to win the seat by himself, even without the party banner.

However, voters like Chowdhury and Roy do not agree. They say that Singh would have lost to Trivedi by a large margin had the BJP wave not been there in 2019 and the latter’s position in the Trinamool Congress not been weakened.

“Arjun Singh believes that it was his personal charisma that worked. It was nothing like that. People did vote for Dinesh Trivedi wholeheartedly. It was just the BJP tag that helped him. People just wanted a change and that worked in his favour. The last time Arjun Singh contested the Parliamentary elections from Barrackpore was in 2004 when he lost to Tarit Baran Topdar of the CPI(M) by over 1,65,000 votes. Where was his charisma then,” Roy asked.

While the state unit of the BJP is still a bit confused over Singh’s defection, the central leadership in Delhi isn’t worried.

“This is how a firm organisation is built in a state. We always knew that those who migrated from the Trinamool Congress are prone to return once their aspirations aren’t fulfilled. However, till we have a strong organisational base in the state, we will have to offer such people tickets. If not for anything else, but to show our ground level workers and supporters that Brand BJP counts in the state. Only after the state leadership creates a pool of leaders, can we stop patronising people like Arjun Singh or Babul Supriyo. It is difficult to build a strong organisation in a state but that must happen before the BJP can seek to oust the well entrenched Trinamool Congress from West Bengal,” a BJP leader in Delhi said.

With less than two years remaining for the 2024 Parliamentary elections, it doesn’t seem that the central leadership’s ideas have had any effect on the West Bengal BJP leaders.

Instead of hitting the streets on issues like corruption and nepotism that have been confirmed by high court rulings, the state leadership is more interested in attempting to prove who is a greater leader. They continue to wait for top leaders from Delhi to address public meetings in the state, but are doing no follow-up to influence people against the Trinamool Congress that is going through a rough time at the moment.

After all, Mamata Banerjee can rage and rant against central agencies but she can say little once agencies like the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) are directed by the high court to probe corruption charges.

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