Veteran TMC leader pitted against actor-turned-BJP greenhorn in Bhabanipur

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By Supratik Sengupta & Bappaditya Chatterjee (Eds: Minor changes) Kolkata, Apr 25 (PTI) A seasoned actor but a greenhorn in electoral politics, Rudranil Ghosh, has been fielded by the BJP from the prestigious Bhabanipur assembly constituency in south Kolkata, a seat left by Bengal Chief Minister and TMC boss Mamata Banerjee as she chose to contest the polls from Nandigram.

The TMC chief had described the seat, of which she is the sitting MLA and a resident, as her 'boro bon' (elder sister) at a poll rally in Nandigram, and reposed faith in veteran politician and state power minister Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay to make a hat-trick of wins for the party.

Under the shadow of Banerjee's influence, the assembly segment has been the stronghold of the ruling TMC since it came into being for the second time in 2011, following the delimitation exercise.

For Chattopadhyay, who had fought assembly elections seven times and won each of the contests, the constituency is his home turf as he is a resident of the area and exercises his franchise there.

The BJP, however, described Banerjee's decision to leave Bhabanipur and fight against her protege-turned- adversary Suvendu Adhikari of the saffron party from Nandigram, as a 'desperate move sensing imminent defeat'.

Ghosh, who has received accolades for his performances in 'Vinci Da' and 'Chaplin', said a large section of people in Bhabanipur are non-Bengalis and may have not watched his films, but they are aware of his social work in the area.

'Sixty per cent of the voters here may have not seen my films, but they know me for my social work. They also know that no graft charge has ever been filed against me.

'People in Bhabanipur have become disillusioned with Mamata Banerjee in the last couple of years. She fled to Nandigram sensing imminent defeat here,' Ghosh, who was once an aide of the TMC supremo but fell out with her two years back, told PTI.

The constituency, which has 2,06,272 voters, is home to a sizeable number of Gujaratis, Sikhs, Biharis and Marwaris, who live alongside Bengalis.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah, in a bid to drum up support for Ghosh, recently held a door-to-door campaign in the Bhabanipur constituency, the only such public outreach programme by the heavyweight leader in the state.

'His (Shah's) energy is infectious. It inspires us. It acted as a catalyst for the swelling support pouring in for me,' said Ghosh who joined the saffron party in January.

Talking about the trolling that he had to endure on social media after switching camp, Ghosh said, 'I am not affected by these jibes aimed at me, mostly by the CPI(M) and the TMC camps.' 'The Left had not worked for the poor people who voted for it for three decades. The TMC also did precious little for the underprivileged who had elected it to power in 2011.

Instead, they cheated and looted them,' he said.

Asked if he would be able to divide time between his on-screen commitments and political responsibilities, Ghosh said, 'A Bengali film's shoot lasts for 15 days. We don't work in more than five films in a year. That comes to 75 days. I would still have 290 days to work for people.' To a question about close friend and film director Raj Chakraborty, who is contesting as a TMC nominee, besides other industry colleagues such as Chiranjit and Saayoni Ghosh, the BJP candidate said, 'I have nothing to comment on their individual decision, their ideology.' 'However, I don't know if they will take responsibility for the atrocities perpetrated by the TMC, the theft of the cyclone Amphan relief funds, the theft of ration by TMC leaders, and the patronisation of cut money (bribery) culture all these years. If they are contesting on TMC tickets, they must also be supporting the misdeeds of the ruling party of the state,' he said.

He claimed that his TMC rival Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay, despite being a senior politician, never protested against the wrongdoings of some TMC leaders in the area.

Chattopadhyay, however, is absolutely confident of retaining the seat for his party.

'I take every fight in my stride. I, as a veteran politician, know how to win a political battle. It is not a big challenge as the chief minister has already prepared the political ground here,' the 77-year-old TMC contestant said.

The power minister, who was a state- and national- level boxing champion and has a mountaineering degree, is leaving no stone unturned to win this political game.

Bhabanipur has never disappointed the TMC, except in 2014 general election, when the BJP managed to get a slender lead from this assembly segment -- a part of Kolkata South Lok Sabha constituency.

Banerjee's trusted lieutenant Subrata Bakshi had won the seat in 2011, when the party fought the election in alliance with the Congress, by nearly 50,000 votes, defeating nearest rival Narayan Prasad Jain of the CPI(M).

The BJP was nowhere in the contest, having bagged just 3.74 per cent votes.

Within a few months, Bakshi vacated the seat to pave the way for Banerjee, who was then an MP, to get elected to the state assembly. The TMC chief had won the by-poll by a margin of 54,000 votes.

The TMC boss, who is a voter of Bhabanipur constituency, also bagged the seat by over 25,000 votes in the 2016 state elections, while the Congress' Deepa Dasmunshi came second and the BJP's Chandrakumar Bose third.

The ruling TMC, however, did not live up to its assembly poll performance during the 2019 Lok Sabha election, and the party stayed ahead by a margin of a little more than 3,000 votes.

According to political analysts, Banerjee's decision to fight the polls from Nandigram could be an outcome of a 'political calculation' as she had alienated many constituents in Bhabanipur with her rhetoric against 'outsiders' or non- Bengalis who live in the area.

The TMC, however, has clarified on several occasions that the 'outsider' barb was directed at 'goons who came from other states to create disturbances amid the elections'.

Bhabanipur constituency will go to polls in the seventh phase of assembly elections on April 26. PTI SUS BDC NN RMS RMS