Amit Shah Plans Howrah Hurricane In Bengal With More Defections
In his latest visit to Bengal, the Home Minister is set to bite off another chunk from the Trinamool.
Union Home Minister and BJP leader Amit Shah is in West Bengal once again, with a two-day trip commencing 30 January. After Shah’s blockbuster rallies in Birbhum and Midnapore last month and BJP orchestrating large scale defections from the Trinamool Congress at the latter, this trip is about a new focus area – namely Howrah and Hooghly.
In his two-day trip, on 30 and 31 January, Shah will hold two rallies under the BJP banner. The first in Thakurnagar in North 24 Parganas, and the other in Dumurjala in Howrah, the day after.
Politically, the Howrah rally is being seen as Shah and the BJP’s next big salvo. Several Trinamool leaders in both Howrah and Hooghly have had a falling out with the party dispensation over the last several weeks. Most (if not all) of these leaders are expected to join the saffron party, in Shah’s presence, on 31 January.
The districts of Howrah and Hooghly hold strategic importance in the 2021 West Bengal elections as they act as a gateway into South Bengal, a Trinamool stronghold. While the BJP won one out of the five Lok Sabha seats between the two districts, the party has, since 2019, shown increased presence in the area.
In the past month, a steady stream of Trinamool leaders from both these districts have dissented against the party. TMC MLA and former Minister Rajib Banerjee, from the Domjur constituency in Howrah, first resigned from ministership and then as MLA and TMC member.
After tendering his resignation to the West Bengal Legislative Assembly speaker on 29 January, Banerjee walked out of the Assembly holding a picture of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
“I believe that politics cannot be done alone. I look forward to working with a larger organization”, said Banerjee when asked if he’d join the BJP at Shah’s rally.
Banerjee had earlier wept outside the Governor’s house while resigning as minister saying that he “didn’t think such a day would ever come”. His falling out with the Trinamool, however, has been a while in the making.
At the centre of the all the other possible defections from the Howrah district- MLAs Baishali Dalmiya, Prabir Ghoshal and former mayor Rathin Chakraborty- is senior Trinamool leader, minister and MLA from Howrah Madhya, Arup Roy.
Banerjee has had a public falling out with Roy, and has over the past year and a half, made his problems clear to the party high command. Roy’s “interference” in all party matters in the district irked several, including Bally MLA Dalmia, who was expelled from the TMC on 22 January for “anti-party statements”.
“In Howrah, there in one man, Mr Arup Roy, and he is the most important and prime person there”, said Dalmia to The Quint.
“All decisions are taken by him. He decides who does what work. All the councillors in our area think they have to go through him for a ticket, and they don’t listen to anybody. They are hooligans and they don’t bother about party protocols. He is not the party. He is not the Chief Minister. So why should he take all decisions?”, he adds.
Dalmia had earlier said that elements in the party were “eating the party from inside like termites”. Referring to former TMC Minister Laxmi Ratan Shukla who recently quit all positions in the party and government to focus on sports, Dalmia said that he too was a “victim” of Roy.
“Rajib Banerjee, Laxmi Ratan Shukla, and even Rathin Chakraborty, who was mayor of Howrah, quit because of him”, said Dalmia, further pointing out that she had repeatedly brought this up with the senior leadership as well as TMC’s poll strategist Prashant Kishor.
She also accepted that talks were on with the BJP and if they “materialize”, she will be seen at Shah’s event on the 31st.
Speaking to The Quint, Trinamool’s former mayor of Howrah, Rathin Chakraborty, confirmed that he will be at the rally.
“There are many problems that we face while working in our districts. These problems are coming from within the party an within the administration. We have apprised Mamata Banerjee and the party many times but nothing has come of it”, he added.
Sources in the BJP say that Chakraborty is being considered as a face against Arup Roy from the Howrah Madhya seat.
The Quint reached to Arup Roy for a comment on this issue, but was told that he’d be unable to speak due to ill-health.
The Importance of Howrah & Hooghly
Howrah and Hooghly and have total of 34 assembly seats between them. Both districts also have very interesting demographics.
Howrah has a sizeable Muslim population at about 26 percent, making it the hotbed of various polarization techniques for many elections. Hooghly, on the other hand, has a scheduled caste (SC) population of 23 percent. The predominant caste here is the Bagdi caste that holds massive electoral sway.
In his visit, Amit Shah, continuing his tradition of lunching with various social groups, will have lunch at a Bagdi household.
Both Howrah and Hooghly have also seen recent clashes between TMC and BJP workers.
Hooghly is also seeing a possible Trinamool defector in Uttarpara MLA Prabir Ghoshal, who was recently show-caused by the party for his statements, has also expressed interest in joining the BJP.
Sources say that Ghoshal has fallen prey to a factional feud with district heavyweight and TMC leader Dilip Yadav, who is also vying for the Uttarpara ticket.
“I’d asked the party high command to cleanse these elements. Instead, they are being rewarded”, said Ghoshal to The Quint, adding that if talks turn positive, he’d be seen with Shah at the rally.
In Howrah and Hooghly a great deal of influence is also wielded by the Furfura Sharif shrine and its cleric Abbas Sidiqui, who has now launched his own political front.
With the elections soon to be announced, the political climate in the twin districts is expected to heat up even more.
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