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BJP drops ex-CEA Lahiri as Alipurduar candidate after protest, picks leader who led agitation

In its list of candidates for 156 seats in Bengal, BJP has fielded 8 Muslim candidates in Muslim-majority seats of Dinajpur and Murshidabad districts.

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Kolkata: The BJP Thursday dropped former chief economic advisor Ashok Lahiri’s name as the candidate from north Bengal’s Alipurduar days after district party workers held a protest against his candidature.

The BJP came out with its candidate list for 156 seats in which it replaced Lahiri with Suman Kanjilal, the district BJP leader who spearheaded the protest.

“I have no comments to make, the party should answer,” Lahiri told ThePrint.

Soon after Lahiri’s name was announced as a candidate last Sunday, the local cadres of the BJP staged a dharna near the party office, saying he is an “outsider”. Alipurduar is a tribal dominated and tea garden-centric constituency. 

Following the protests, Lahiri had told ThePrint he would fix the situation. “I am feeling a bit distracted now. I have extreme academic interest. I will fix things in two days,” he had said. 

BJP sources said Lahiri wasn’t too comfortable with the “local dissidence”.

“Lahiri is yet to join the party formally. But he agreed to the candidature. He was not comfortable with so much local dissidence. We may bring him to some urban seat near Kolkata,” said a senior BJP leader, who didn’t want to be named.

Also read: In West Bengal, an injured Mamata Banerjee is more lethal for BJP. Over to Modi

17 defectors, 8 Muslim candidates

Infighting has been flaring up in Bengal BJP with the party naming turncoats, celebrities and several newcomers as candidates while ignoring old-timers.

In the list released Thursday, the BJP named 17 defectors, eight Muslims and three celebrities. BJP national vice-president Mukul Roy features in the list.

Of the 17 defectors, 15 are Trinamool turncoats, while the other two switched sides from the Congress and CPM.

After fielding journalist Swapan Dasgupta from Tarkeswar, BJP has now fielded Anirban Ganguly, director of Delhi-based Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation. 

The list also includes Sikha Mitra, wife of late West Bengal Congress chief Somen Mitra. Sikha, however, denied any association with the BJP.

“I will never contest election as a BJP candidate,” she told the media.

The BJP sprung a surprise by fielding Muslim candidates in areas where the Muslim population is around or above 60 per cent.

Of the eight constituencies, there are at least three constituencies in Murshidabad, which has over 80 per cent Muslim population each. The BJP had fielded two Muslim candidates in 2019 general elections. 

Muslims matter 

The BJP has fielded Muslim candidates in Chopra and Goalpokhar in North Dinajpur district, Harishchandrapur in Malda district, Raghunathganj, Sagardighi, Bhagabangola, Raninagar and Domkal in Murshidabad district. 

Goalpokhar, Bhagabangola, Raninagar, and Domkal have over 80 per cent Muslim population. These constituencies in Murshidabad are located near the international border between India and Bangladesh. 

Of the eight Muslim candidates, Mafuja Khatun, BJP candidate from Sagardighi, is the party’s state vice-president. She defected to the BJP from CPM in 2018. She is a former CPM MLA. 

In the 2018 panchayat election, the BJP fielded around 850 Muslim candidates in Malda and Murshidabad regions. 

State BJP chief Dilip Ghosh said Muslims in Bengal want development, which is why they’re joining the party.

“Earlier Muslims were misled about the BJP by some political parties. They were told that the BJP is against them. The BJP is for bharatiyas. Muslims in Bengal realised that the BJP only speaks against appeasement and not Muslims. They want development and that is why they are joining us,” he told ThePrint.

(Edited by Debalina Dey)

Also read: I worry about 2021 Bengal election. You should too: Yogendra Yadav


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