Why were these Trinamool Congress MPs dropped from the candidate list this time?

Firming up poll strategies to fight the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s growing support in the tribal belt of Jangalmahal (the western region of Bengal’s Purulia, Bankura and West Midnapore) has been an important reason for the Trinamool Congress to deny tickets to three of the party’s current parliamentarians this time.

In one seat, it is communal flare up, in another seat a parliamentarian’s unwillingness to contest and in yet another seat, an MP required for full-time party work led to dropping six sitting parliamentarians from Trinamool Congress’ Lok Sabha candidate list for 2019.

Two other Trinamool parliamentarians have joined the BJP – one of them Bolpur MP Anupam Hazra and the other, Bisnupur MP Soumitra Khan. They had been suspended by Trinamool Congress earlier.

While these two names were known, names some others were doing the rounds for the past few days, and it was clear when Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee announced the names of all 42 candidates at a press conference today.

The three most important changes first. Veteran film actor Sandhya Roy, who won from the Midnapore Lok Sabha seat, hasn’t got a ticket this time. According to Banerjee, the MP had herself expressed the wish to devote time to the party but in a way that doesn’t require moving around so much. Roy apparently also wanted to do some other work. The candidate from Midnapore this time is Manas Bhuniya, a senior politician who was earlier with the Congress. Bhuniya has been Trinamool Congress Rajya Sabha MP since 2017. But his experience as a lawmaker from Midnapore’s Sabong area led the Trinamool chief choose him in place of Roy. The main reason is the way BJP has made inroads in the area for the past few years. There has been major rise in support of BJP among the tribal youths. This could not be checked by Roy, especially because she doesn’t have the requisite experience as a politician.

The other change was putting senior politician Subrata Mukherjee to contest from Bankura, in place of Moon Moon Sen. It was the same logic here: check the BJP from making further inroads, and therefore the need for strong politicians who have years of experience and can easily strategise themselves instead of falling back on others in the party. Moon Moon Sen, wasn’t dropped though. She has been fielded in the Asansol constituency, where BJP’s Babul Supriyo won in 2014.

The third candidate dropped from Jangalmahal is Uma Soren, Trinamool Congress’ Jhargram MP was dropped as the leadership was unhappy with her performance, say party insiders. Mamata Banerjee however, said at the press conference that Soren had herself requested to be given responsibility of working for the party rather than asked to contest as a candidate this time. Here too, the party strategy is to bring back support for the Trinamool Congress by heavyweight and experienced politicians.

This is the region where the CPI (Maoist) had been active in the past, and the Trinamool Congress has major support at the grassroots level. The party insiders feel that experienced politicians will be able to fulfil this target in no time.

Sugata Basu, parliamentarian from Jadavpur constituency had requested Banerjee to allow him to stay away from elections this time, the Trinamool Congress chief said. Basu, who teaches at Harvard University, is said to have told the party chief that he wouldn’t be allowed leave for so many days that he will be able to do justice to the work of the constituency. Tollywood actor Mimi Chakraborty was announced as a Jadavpur candidate this time.

Subrata Bakshi is another key parliamentarian not contesting this time. A close aide of Banerjee who maintains a low profile and is an efficient organiser and party worker, the Trinamool Congress bigwig is said to have expressed the wish to work for the party to ensure they get all 42 Lok Sabha seats. “It can happen only in the Trinamool Congress,” said Banerjee. Bakshi had contested from Kolkata South constituency, which has been won by Mamata Banerjee herself for several terms. Instead, the Kolkata South constituency candidate is party veteran Mala Roy, a hardworking and dedicated Mamata Banerjee loyalist.

Idris Ali, the Basirhat parliamentarian, was denied the ticket because the constituency is communally vulnerable, and the party needed to make a big change in order to win it again.

Bengali movie star Nusrat Jahan has been fielded from Basirhat – and it looks like a clever move by the party chief in view of the riots that took place in the area a couple of years back. Nusrat Jahan will be a big draw in the area – both on account of being a Muslim as well as for the glamour factor. No doubt Mamata Banerjee will try to keep this seat for the Trinamool Congress this time too, despite the BJP’s best attempts. The seat borders Bangladesh and has high percentage of Hindus and Muslims (with higher percentage of Muslims) and differences based on religious and party lines here are massive.

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