Kolkata: Dozens of people march through the streets of West Bengal’s Kharagpur town, with those at the front brandishing a large banner bearing the faces of Syama Prasad Mukherjee – founder of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the predecessor to the Bharatiya Janata Party – and former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, apart from others. A saffron-clad and well-garlanded election aspirant walks in the middle, acknowledging the cries of support from those around him and some bystanders.
But this isn’t a march in support of a BJP candidate. The man in the middle is Pradip Kumar Patnaik, a rebel who purportedly wants to save the saffron party from itself. And the banner reads: BJP Bachao Committee (BJPBC).
Patnaik has decided to contest the November 25 Bengal bye-elections from the Kharagpur seat as a candidate of the BJPBC on its ‘diamond’ symbol, giving state BJP chief Dilip Ghosh something to think about a week ahead of the polls.
Patnaik, who formed the BJPBC on November 3, looks set to take on the BJP’s Prem Chandra Jha.
Senior party leaders Shiv Prakash and Arvind Menon recently requested him to withdraw his nomination, say sources, but Patnaik decided to go ahead.
“I raised serious objections to party president Dilip Ghosh and other senior leaders against Prem Chandra Jha,” Patnaik told News18. “But despite that they fielded him to contest the bypoll from Kharagpur Sadar. I told my party that there are several corruption cases against Prem Chandra Jha and we may lose the Kharagpur seat as his image is not good.”
“My fight is against Dilip Ghosh because Prem Chandra Jha is just a face. It will be a setback for the BJP if they lose this seat because Kharagpur is a strong bastion of Dilip Ghosh. He became MLA from this seat and now he is the MP,” he added.
Jha is under the scanner of the state Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in connection with a property cheating case in West Midnapore district. The complainant against him is Sukanta Bera, great grandson of freedom fighter Sanatan Bera and a resident of Taljuli area in Kharagpur.
Hitting back at Patnaik, Ghosh told News18, “He contested the assembly and Lok Sabha elections six times in the past but never won. He was an old party worker and it is unfortunate that we had to expel him for making objectionable comments against BJP and its leaders. He is contesting the bypoll but that is not going to affect the BJP on that seat.”
On the charges against Prem Chandra Jha, he said, “There is a conspiracy against him. It’s an attempt to malign his image before the polls.”
The fracture in the BJP has boosted the spirits of the state’s ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC). The Kharagpur Sadar candidate from TMC, Pradip Sarkar, said, “We are surely winning this seat as people have lost faith in Dilip Ghosh.”
A large number of traders also met the state BJP chief in Kharagpur, angry about the “poor development” in the area.
“It is true that there is a lot of work which needs to be done in the area. We want to work but the state government is not cooperating with us,” Ghosh said.
The bye-elections are for the Kaliaganj assembly seat in North Dinajpur, Kharagpur Sadar in West Midnapore, and Karimpur in Nadia district.
The Kaliaganj seat fell vacant following the death of Congress MLA Pramatha Nath Ray on May 31, while the Kharagpur Sadar and Karimpur seats became available after then BJP MLA Dilip Ghosh and TMC MLA Mahua Moitra won the parliamentary polls.
The last date of nomination was November 6 and counting will be held on November 28.