Two days prior to Holi, Trinamool Congress’ firebrand leader Mahua Moitra posted a sarcastic picture on X: Eyes glued to two pairs of binoculars, she and her party colleague, Saayoni Ghosh, sitting side by side, are gazing far away intently. “...still searching for BJP candidates against us.” reads the caption of the post.

The next day, the BJP fielded a candidate from the erstwhile royal family of West Bengal’s Krishnanagar Lok Sabha constituency to take on Moitra, one of its fiercest critics. Releasing its second candidate list for Bengal on March 24, the saffron party named Amrita Roy, the Rajmata of the local royal family, for Krishnanagar, and also announced 18 other candidates who will contest the elections from the state.

The BJP had announced its first list of Bengal candidates on March 20, when it fielded Anirban Ganguly from the prestigious Jadavpur parliamentary constituency against Saayoni Ghosh. ‘Streetfighter’ Ghosh, also an actor, already took a jibe at her rival Ganguly, alleging he is “a migratory bird in election seasons”. “It’s election season in Bengal, time for the migratory birds of @BJP4India to show their faces,” ruling Trinamool wrote in its X handle.

Laying inroads

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP put up a stunning performance, making inroads in the TMC-ruled state. The saffron party secured 18 seats with 40.64 per cent vote share as the state’s voters moved decisively towards a bipolar political configuration, leaving the Congress and the Left far behind. Congress managed to get only two seats, while CPI(M) did not got a single seat. Trinamool had bagged 22 seats with 43.69 per cent vote share.

This time, the saffron party has set an ambitious target of winning 35 seats. Sounding the poll bugle, Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this month visited the state.

Addressing public rallies, Modi lashed out at the Chief Minister over the Sandeshkhali violence in which a controversial TMC leader is the main accused. The BJP has fielded Rekha Patra, a prominent face of the women’s protest in Sandeshkhali, from the Basirhat LS seat.

However, the BJP seems to be struggling on many fronts. While the Mamata Banerjee-led party had announced its list of the candidates for all the 42 Lok Sabha seats in Bengal on March 10, BJP is yet to field candidates for as many as four seats in the state, including the most important Diamond Harbour parliamentary constituency. Abhishek Banerjee, Trinamool’s second-in-command and nephew of the Chief Minister, is contesting from Diamond Harbour in South 24 Parganas district.

With less than a month to go before the polls, the BJP’s “inability” or “indecision” to field a prominent candidate to take on the Opposition’s ‘Senapati’ in his stronghold is already casting a shadow on the party’s prospects.

“The way BJP has been announcing its candidate lists reflects the party’s lack of homework for West Bengal.

The party has been organising rallies and public meetings throughout the year, but it seems that the party is not very well prepared in terms of fielding right candidates at key constituencies. It shows some organisational weakness in the party’s machinery in Bengal,” said one of the political analysts.

However, the BJP itself sounds confident. “There is no doubt that we will be able to increase our party’s seats and vote share in the state compared to the 2019 LS elections. We all are currently engaged in discussion on finalising candidates for the four remaining seats. After that we will send our recommendations to the central leadership,” Bengal BJP’s Samik Bhattacharya told businessline.

Big blow

BJP candidate Abhijit Gangopadhyay, a former Calcutta High Court judge, is contesting from Tamluk seat in East Medinipur district. Gangopadhyay, who resigned as a judge and joined the BJP, virtually became a national figure as he had given several orders in the alleged West Bengal school jobs scams. He passed several orders directing the CBI and the ED to investigate the alleged scams. Job aspirants, who were protesting against the state government, hailed his intervention. Trinamool has pitted its youngest candidate, Debangshu Bhattacharya, who is the party’s social media and IT cell head, against Gangopadhyay.

The Congress and the INDIA bloc suffered a huge blow in Bengal as the TMC decided to fight the upcoming elections alone in the state. The Congress criticised Trinamool for not going for seat-sharing, calling the CM’s decision “unilateral announcements”.

The Congress and the Left Front are now engaged in seat-sharing talks for the state. However, this too is not smooth sailing. The Congress named its candidate for Cooch Behar constituency in north Bengal, even after the Left Front had nominated its candidate to contest from the seat against incumbent BJP MP and Union Minister Nisith Pramanik.

The LS elections for the 42 constituencies in the state will be held in seven phases from April 19 to June 1.