Barrackpore: BJP candidate from West Bengal's Barrackpore parliamentary constituency Arjun Singh has said that close to 60 lawmakers from the state's ruling Trinamool Congress are in touch with him and may defect to the saffron outfit once the results of the Lok Sabha elections are announced on May 23.
Singh, once a Trinamool strongman who jumped ship to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in March, is confident of virtually "walking away" with the seat as he feels a "saffron tsunami is round the corner" in Bengal.
He also prophesied that his Trinamool Congress rival Dinesh Trivedi, a two-time MP from Barrackpore and former Union Railway Minister, will slip to the third spot.
Singh's comments about Trinamool MLAs being in contact with him came close on the heels of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's recent claim at an election rally in Hooghly district that many Trinamool lawmakers would desert the party once the results of the general elections were out and that 40 of the party's lawmakers were in touch with him.
"Modiji said 40 MLAs. I am saying over 60 MLAs are in touch with me. Close to 100 MLAs will leave Trinamool after the elections. Just wait till May 23. People will see what happens. There is a saffron tsunami round the corner," Singh said in an interview with IANS.
"I am 200 per cent sure of winning this election because Trinamool has fielded Dinesh Trivedi from my constituency. He is not popular here. People hardly know him. When I was in Trinamool, I used to ensure his victory in the elections.
"I think he will come third this time. CPI-M will be second," said Singh, who was a key Trinamool figure behind Trivedi's election from the seat in 2014.
Singh, who defected from Trinamool Congress just days after West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced the names of the party's Lok Sabha candidates, said he hardly had to break a sweat to fit in his new party as their ideology and work culture matched.
"The main difference is that BJP is a mass-based party, while Trinamool Congress is largely dependent on a few leaders. I am comfortable in this party. As a politician, I have always worked closely with the masses and workers at the ground level.
"BJP is receiving tremendous mass support in Bengal since the last few years. It is true that we still have to work in order to convert this mass support into active party cadres. But the parallel organisations of the BJP, like the RSS, already have a large number of activists here. When a party evokes such a positive response from among the common people, it always feels good to work for it," said Singh, the former MLA of Bhatpara in North 24 Parganas district.
"Whenever the BJP organises rallies or public meetings, many people come spontaneously. This is a good omen. It shows that the party has gained popularity among all sections of people, which is very important to win an election," he said.
A famous British cantonment and a booming industrial belt of yesteryears, Barrackpore will see a four cornered battle in the Lok Sabha polls. Apart from Singh and Trivedi, the other two main contestants are Mohammad Alam of the Congress and Gargi Chatterjee of the CPI-M. The constituency goes to the polls in the fifth phase on May 6.
While addressing an election rally in Singh's home turf Bhatpara a few days back, Mamata Banerjee had accused her former lieutenant of being "greedy" and alleged that he left the party for not getting an election ticket.
Refuting the allegations, Singh said he abandoned the party because he was deeply hurt by Banerjee's comments questioning the success of the Balakot air strike.
"When didi questioned the success of the air strike, I told her that such comments were destroying her public image. But she accused me of talking in the tone of BJP. She questioned why I was in touch with BJP's Mukul Roy. So I told her that if she doesn't have faith in me after so many years of service, I should not be with her. I bade good bye to Trinamool on that very day.
"If getting an election ticket was the issue, I could have left the party on that very day when the candidates' list was announced, or even before that. The party leaders have internal knowledge about who would get ticket days before the official announcement is made. However, I had told her (Banerjee) that if I was nominated, she could be rest assured that I would emerge victorious," Singh said.
Singh is a seasoned campaigner in Barrackpore, where close to 37 per cent voters are Hindi speaking.
He also claimed that the popularity of Banerjee was fast declining in the area due to varied reasons, including minority appeasement, corruption and attempts to highlight his nephew and Trinamool MP Abhishek Banerjee.
"Her rallies are failing to draw crowd now a days. The rally she held in my constituency in Bhatpara had hardly 3,000 people while another rally in Palta was attended by less than 2,000 people," Singh said, adding that Modi's rally in the constituency was a huge hit.
"Bengal is a Hindu majority state. Due to Banerjee's minority appeasement policies, the Hindus, cutting across caste lines, are coming together under BJP's banner. Today, both Bengali and Hindi speaking Hindus are chanting 'Jai Sree Ram'. Even the leftists are saying 'Pehele Ram, phir baam' (Hinduism first, communism later).
"From snatching away people's voting rights to taking cut money from cow smugglers and coal mafias, the list against the Trinamool and Banerjee is long. This election will be the last nail in Mamata Banerjee government's coffin," Singh claimed.