Kolkata: Five years back, BJP’s Bengal plan centred around roping in big names from the glamour world and then reaching out to the people at large by cashing in on their celebrity status. The party’s appeal till then was confined to a section comprising its core supporters, and large chunks of the Bengal society were largely indifferent to the saffron outfit.
However, the five-year rule of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre has changed the scenario substantially, that is what BJP leaders believe. According to them, the Modi government’s pro-active nature and its ability to take big decisions have struck a chord in the Bengali mindset. The BJP has figured prominently in coffee table discussions and street corner debates over the past few years.
“We don’t see any need to introduce the party to the people any more. People now know us quite well. So, there is no need for celebrities, with very limited knowledge about the party, joining us. Moreover, our organisational expansion in the state has put us on a stronger wicket. We now have a good base of party activists, unlike the last time,” says a BJP leader.
A number of celebrities who contested the polls for the BJP in 2014 severed all contacts with the party after they lost. Some of them, like celebrated magician P.C. Sorcar Jr even spoke of the BJP in disparaging terms.
The BJP leadership this time has kept the glam content low while selecting the candidates so far for 40 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state.
Even in those cases where tickets have gone to celebrities from the world of entertainment, the clinching factor has been the persons’ political work rather than the tag of celebrity.
For instance, the party has fielded actress Locket Chatterjee, the president of the party’s state Mahila Morcha, from Hooghly constituency. According to the BJP leadership, she has been rewarded for her sincerity and gritty participation in a series of agitations against Bengal’s Trinamoool Congress government since joining the BJP four years back.
“Similarly, singer-actor Babul Supriyo is now known equally well as a Union minister. He has the zeal for quick completion of Kolkata’s East-West Metro. He is a vocal MP in Parliament as also in the social media with regard to his constituency Asansol and issues of right, justice and politics. His political side has been the only determining factor,” the source said.
The same litmus test decided the candidacy of actor Joy Bandopadhyay from Uluberia. “He had been in the poll fray from Birbhum in 2014. But he did not ditch us despite losing the contest. He kept in touch with us and was available for our programmes whenever we needed him”.
Apart from Bandopadhyay, Sorcar and Supriyo, the BJP had also nominated singer Bappi Lahiri from Srerampur, actors Nimu Bhowmick from Raiganj and George Baker from Howrah in 2014.
While Baker was later nominated to the Lok Sabha as one of the two members from the Anglo Indian community, Bhowmick dissociated from the BJP after alleging he was ignored and humiliated. Lahiri never attended BJP’s programmes and finally announced in 2017 he was too busy to spare time for politics.
“So, this time in Bengal we have so far not nominated a celebrity as a candidate just after his or her joining the party fold. We have selected time-tested individuals,” he said. Discussions are, however, taking place in the party on making one exception by giving the party ticket to new recruit fashion designer Agnimitra Paul from one of the two constituencies where the BJP is yet to declare its candidate.
“But, as a general principle, seasoned BJP leaders, people with good academic records, professionals like doctors and teachers have been nominated. Some of them have close links with the RSS, and the Sangh has pushed their cases. These people believe in our ideology and can project our party in a favourable manner to the general public,” said another BJP source.
Besides, bolstered by the inclusion of Mamata Banerjee’s one-time closest associate Mukul Roy, the saffron outfit has drawn some leaders from other parties.
Trinamool’s Bhatpara lawmaker and political strongman Arjun Singh, former CPI-M MLA Khagen Murmu, Trinamool MPs Anupam Hazra and Saumitra Khan, and Trinamool’s youth leader Nisith Pramanik have not only been welcomed, but have been made candidates as well.
“Mostly, they have been nominated in their areas of influence. The same is the logic for inducting and nominating former IPS Bharati Ghosh. She has been made our candidate from Ghatal, which is in West Midnapore district, where Ghosh was a high-profile police superintendent and knows the area very well,” he said.