The BJP on Wednesday (March 9) announced its first list of 52 candidates for the Bengal Assembly elections. It fielded actor-politicans and a former footballer among its candidates but in that list, the most significant name is that of Chandra Kumar Bose,the grand nephew of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, apart from Shamik Bhattacharya who is the party's only MLA in the state now.
Bose has been fielded from Bhabanipur constituency in South Kolkata, the very seat of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and nothing could have been a better strategy for the BJP in a state where it has clearly struggled to build up on the advantage it had gained in the 2014 Lok Sabha election by grabbing 17 per cent vote share.
That the BJP mentioned Bose's name as an opponent to Banerjee in the evening itself shows how much importance it is giving to him. The saffron party generally doesn't make the move of emphasising on a single candidate but it broke its tradition this time mainly to serve three purposes.
BJP aims to make the most of the Netaji sentiments in Bengal
First, fielding a kin of Netaji will mean that the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre is in no mood to part ways with its plan of playing the nationalist card by focusing on Netaji. Both the Mamata Banerjee and Narendra Modi governments are in a race to release Netaji-related files to reap the sentimental benefits.
And now by fielding a member of the iconic freedom fighter's family against Banerjee, the BJP will put the Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo in a spot by limiting her capacity of going all out against her saffron opponent for she is equally careful about benefiting from the Netaji factor (her own party had given Lok Sabha poll tickets to Netaji's kin as well and one of her MP now, Sugata Bose, is from that family). It will be interesting to see how Banerjee deals with her BJP opponent in Bhabanipur.
Bhabanipur has a sizeable Gujarati population
Secondly, the posh Bhabanipur constituency is home to a sizeable Gujarati population, which makes the BJP hopeful. In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the Kolkata South parliamentary constituency (under which Bhabanipur segment falls) saw BJP's Tathagata Ray ending up second with almost three lakh votes (26 per cent vote share) after the TMC's Subrata Bakshi (4.31 lakh votes, 37 per cent share).
Moreover, the TMC's votes got reduced in the by-election which Banerjee won from Bhabanipur to become an MLA compared to what her party had won in the Assembly election of 2011 (73,635 from 87,903). This factor might have also encouraged the BJP to field a well-known local as a candidate from this seat to take on the TMC's main pillar.
A move to prove allegations about "understanding with TMC" false
Thirdly, when a section of opponents, media and analysts is accusing the BJP of not giving much importance to the Bengal polls to make it easier for the TMC (read the Howrah by-election model of June 2013), the saffron party had a stake to prove that the allegations are not true and hence came this move.
But with the TMC's base strong enough despite the anti-incumbency and anti-establishment votes likely to merge, thanks to the Left Front and Congress's growing closeness, the BJP might still find it difficult to make its presence felt in Bengal in this election.