Kolkata: Who is the ‘Bhumiputra’ (son of the soil) that Amit Shah was referring to as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Chief Ministerial face to take on Mamata Banerjee in the stormy assembly elections in 2021? The buzz has begun in the political circles since the all-powerful Union Home Minister’s assertion in his press conference in Bolpur on Sunday that their candidate for the hot seat will be very much from the state of West Bengal.
It was a fruitful two-day visit by Shah from BJP’s perspective, as it saw them making a major dent in the Trinamool Congress ranks as state minister Suvendhu Adhikari switched camps alongwith six other TMC MLAs and three more from CPI(M) and Congress. A hands-on politician with a huge family clout in the sprawling district of Medinipur, Adhikari is known for his abilities to shoulder huge workload and mass base in the expansive South 24 Parganas.
There is no gainsaying that the upcoming assembly elections has shades of the 2011 edition with the anti-incumbency factor riding high - as BJP sees their chance after making major inroads in the 2019 Parliamentary elections with a 40% of the vote share. However, the Achilles Heel for the Saffron bridage is certainly the absence of an unanimous choice on their part as a Chief Ministerial face who could take on the aura of ‘Didi’?
It’s a contentious issue which Shah tried to address by saying that their candidate will not be an ‘outsider,’ a jibe that Mamata Banerjee often takes at the leadership at the helm of their electoral campaign in the state. An astute politician, Shah however did not commit on any specific choice, saying that there are enough potential candidates to take over the hot seat should BJP come to power. The induction of Adhikari, along with the likes of veteran Mukul Roy, party’s state president Dilip Ghosh has now given them a few options to play with – but it remains to be seen if anyone of them can match up to the time-tested abilities of Mamata Banerjee to ride the storm.
This is where the fourth name – that of Sourav Ganguly – former Indian cricket captain and now President of the Indian cricket board comes up and can provide the real X-factor. An apolitical person, Ganguly can still play the Pied Piper to the people of the state and he has significantly stayed mum on any possibilities of taking the plunge.
We take a look at the four choices who could play the ‘Bhumiputra’:
Thr ripples of Suvendu Adhikari ceremonially joining BJP on Saturday could perhaps be felt in the corridors of national politics in New Delhi. The state transport minister, former MP from their family stronghold of Medinipur and the key man behind Banerjee’s 2007 anti-land acquisition movement in Nandigram that helped her end 34 years of Left rule in the state, the 49-year-old Adhikari is known for his organizational skills in fighting elections.
The problem, however, lies in the fact he is yet to prove himself equally acceptable to the urban vote bank in the state and his crossing over to BJP is being seen as an ‘opportunistic’ move to pursue his ambitions. There is an argument that Mamata had herself broken ranks from the Indian National Congress (INC) in 1998, but then she launched her own party in TMC which took 13 long years to eventually topple the Left bastion.
Many feel that Adhikari would be better suited to a No.2 role, but it’s still a matter of conjecture.
The 56-year-old state president of BJP is quite an enigmatic character. The only politician among the possible contenders who has his roots in the culture Rashtriya Sayamsevak Sangh (RSS), he is perceived by the party High Command as someone who delivers and seems to enjoy their trust.
Hailing from Medinipur, the same district as the Adhikaris, Ghosh is credited along with Mukul Roy in playing his part in masterminding the jump in the number of BJP seats to 18 in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. There is a bit of the streetfighter streak in him which often seems him engage in open brinkmanship with the TMC leadership – but interestingly, he has not been disciplined or asked to go slow in his tirades - at least on record.
Can he be the go-to person or will he still play the general to increase the strength of BJP cadres in the state?
Now 66 years old, Mukul Roy is a perfect example of being there, done that in politics. He had been a Union Railway Minister in the NDA government when the TMC was a part of it and was Didi’s closest confidante for years till he joined the BJP in 2017 and became its national executive committee member.
His crossing over again had shades of Adhikari three years down the line but it serves the BJP’s interests rather well. The strategist in Roy was instrumental in engineering more defections from TMC – and the results were there to see in 2019. In a recent reshuffle of the party hierarchy, Roy was elevated to a national Vice-President’s post by J.P. Nadda - indicating he would more be the kingmaker in the upcoming state elections.
While the age barrier is not really a criterion in India’s politics, Roy seems more in his elements as a strategist and does not have the reputation as a charismatic public-speaker.
Finally, we come back to the person who can provide the X-factor to the state politics if ‘Dada’ is convinced of taking the plunge. The BJP is not the first political party to try and woo him to join the ranks, but the former Indian captain and the articulate Ganguly had always maintained that it was not his subject - and the only occasion when he lent his presence was when Baishali Dalmiya (daughter of the late cricket administrator Jagmohan Dalmiya), a family friend, was contesting for the 2016 assembly elections as a TMC candidate.
However, when Ganguly became the President of Board of Control for Cricket in India in October, 2019, on a dramatic day - it was an elevation which reportedly had the blessings of Shah. It’s been over a year now that he had been working in tandem with secretary Jay Shah, son of the Home Minister and treasurer Arun Dhumal, younger brother of Union minister of state Anurag Thakur.
Often quizzed by the local media about his political ambitions, Ganguly had laughed off any such queries in the past. The speculation will only increase as the countdown intensifies in the coming months!