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How BJP’s using intellectuals, actors to win Bengal & ‘get traction’ in Tamil Nadu, Kerala

By fielding public figures, BJP aims at expanding its footprints in Kerala & Tamil Nadu, but in Bengal, its strategy is to counter TMC’s outsider jibe, party leaders say.

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New Delhi: Actors, public intellectuals, retired police officers — the BJP has fielded several of them in the upcoming West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu assembly elections.

While the party has bet on glamour and intelligence to blunt the ruling Trinamool Congress’ ‘outsider’ jibe in the fiercely-contested Bengal polls, in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, it fielded accomplished public figures to expand its footprints.

In Bengal — which will head to an unprecedented eight-phase election beginning 27 March — the BJP has given tickets to journalist Swapan Dasgupta, former chief economic advisor to the Government of India Ashok Lahiri, and Bengali actors Yash Dasgupta, Payel Sarkar, Tanushree Chakraborty and Anjana Basu.

In Kerala, former DGP Jacob Thomas, ‘Metro man’ E. Sreedharan, film star Krishna Kumar, actor-singer Suresh Gopi have been fielded, while in Tamil Nadu, the party has given a ticket to actor Khushbu Sundar, who joined the party last October, and former IPS officer K. Annamalai.

“By fielding stars and prominent people, we are aiming at a two-pronged strategy — get traction and ensure winnability in some seats, where our presence is limited, in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. But in Bengal, our strategy is to counter the TMC’s charge of an ‘outsider party’ and win weak seats and send a message to the Bengali ‘Bhadralok (gentleman) class’ that the party is coming to power to govern,” a BJP general secretary told ThePrint.

Also read: Injury could ‘help Mamata’ — BJP asks Bengal leaders not to talk about Nandigram incident

‘Intellectual’ faces in Bengal

Senior BJP leaders said ticket distribution was done keeping in mind several strategies.

For example, the party has fielded former chief economic adviser (CEA) and ex-Asian Development Bank director Ashok Lahiri in north Bengal’s Alipurduar and BJP intellectual Swapan Dasgupta from Tarakeswar to reach out to to the educated Bengali buddhijibis (intellectuals), who aren’t really impressed by the party’s Hindu nationalism stance.

Lahiri at present serves as a member of the 15th Finance Commission. He was the CEA under the Vajpayee government when Jaswant Singh was finance minister and later served as Bandhan Bank chairman when late BJP leader Arun Jaitley was the finance minister.

“BJP chose Ashok Lahiri and Swapan Dasgupta to reach out to those educated class who have certain reservations about nationalism since Bengal is an intellectually sound state and their love for academics, music, cinema is well-known. Several Nobel laureates have emerged from Bengal. We have to show intellectual, academic faces to those electorate, who have reservations with our nationalism plank,” said a senior BJP leader, who didn’t want to be named.

“The second point is when we are coming to power, there should be such people who understand the economy and the problems of Bengal,” he added.

BJP sources said during TMC’s rule, Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee persuaded Amit Mitra, former FICCI general secretary, to become the finance minister, so the BJP is trying to counter Mitra with Lahiri and if “they form the government, he will be the finance minister”.

Kailash Vijayvargiya, BJP general secretary, told ThePrint, “We want to send the message that we are coming to power and we have selected such people to fight, keeping in mind their expertise. It will send the message that BJP has people with expertise to govern the state once we form the government.”

With Mamata giving tickets to several TV/film stars, the BJP in a bid to counter this has fielded several Bengali celebrities, who may help influence public decisions.

Bengali film actor Yash Dasgupta has been named a candidate from Chanditala, Payel Sarkar from Behala Purba, Tanushree Chakraborty from Howrah Shyampur and Anjana Basu from Sonarpur South.

Agnimitra Paul, BJP women morcha chief and fashion designer, told ThePrint, “Bengal is different from other states. Here intellectual capital is important for people. Film stars have huge following and these stars are stars not by birth. They have made their mark on their own and it is not only easy to win seats easily with their star power, but they also help in influencing public opinion.”

Star power to enhance presence in Kerala, Tamil Nadu

Unlike Bengal, where the BJP still seems to have a chance to wrest power from the TMC, the party’s fight in Kerala and Tamil Nadu is about securing more presence and improving its performance.

In Kerala, actor-turned politician Suresh Gopi will contest from Thrissur, while former DGP Jacob Thomas is contesting from Irinjalakuda. ‘Metro man’ Sreedharan is contesting from Palakkad and Malayalam actor Krishna Kumar, who joined the BJP last month, will be contesting from Thiruvananthapuram Central.

In Tamil Nadu, Khushbu Sundar is contesting from Thousand Lights constituency in Chennai, while K. Annamalai was named the candidate from Aravakurichi.

“Between the two alliances, LDF and UDF, the BJP has to make a mark. The state politics is polarised between the two. Our initial challenge to give them a good fight, therefore such people have been chosen who have credibility and those who have contributed to society,” said K. Surendran, Kerala BJP chief.

A second BJP leader, who didn’t want to be named, told ThePrint giving tickets to known faces increases the party’s acceptability and chances of winning, particularly in places where it is weak. 

Also read: Namasudras are getting closer to BJP in West Bengal. There is a tradeoff

Pramod Mahajan started star power trend in BJP  

During the Vajpayee-Advani era, public intellectuals such as Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie had joined the BJP.

But it was during the 2004 Lok Sabha election that late BJP leader Pramod Mahajan — the election in-charge for the polls — inducted several Bollywood celebrities, from Dharmendra and Hema Malini to Anup Jalota and Navjot Singh Sidhu.

Before Anupam Kher and Paresh Rawal joined the BJP, Mahajan’s initiative to open the party’s doors to celebrities helped the BJP enhance its presence in many areas.

(Edited by Debalina Dey)

Also read: BJP fields Sreedharan from Kerala’s Palakkad, MPs Babul Supriyo, Swapan Dasgupta in Bengal race


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  1. WB, TN and Kerala are sure to go for a non BJP party. All intellectual talks do not mean a diddly squat.

  2. hahaha. print. my goodness. khushboo an intellectual. and the lot of cine actors. most of them are morons .ofcourse there are exceptions. Sridharan has exhibited how intellectual he is by raking up love jihad. professional expertise does not make one an intellectual. all these people whom have been clubbed except Swapan who is an intellectual in his own right, might have been successful in their chosen fields. but to assign intellectual qualities to them shows the total bankruptcy of ideas.

    • How is swapan das gupta Intellactual if he was an intellactual he wouldn’t have joined BJP At all
      I am completly anti bjp & They don’t want any intellactuals
      How is Swapan das intellactual acc. To u sir

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