“He has caught thieves. He will catch more thieves from Bengal after joining with Modiji. His name is Abhijit Gangopadhyay, who is a former judge and our candidate. Are we making him an MP? I will cast my vote. Will you all exercise your franchise too? Which button (of EVM) will you press?” asks Suvendu Adhikari, while addressing a “Vijay Sankalp Sabha” of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Tamluk.  

Adhikari, the West Bengal Leader of Opposition, was addressing an election rally on Thursday, the last day of campaigning for Tamluk Lok Sabha constituency from which the former judge of the Calcutta High Court is contesting.

Tamluk, along with seven other seats in South Bengal, is going to the polls on May 25 in the sixth phase of the elections in the state. Other constituencies are Kanthi, Ghatal, Jhargram, Medinipur, Purulia, Bankura and Bishnupur.

In the intensifying electoral battle in Tamluk in East Medinipur district, the BJP has the advantage of a double-barrel gun. East Medinipur district has long been considered as an Adhikari family bastion. Moreover, fielding Gangopadhyay, an “anti-corruption hero” from this much-in-the-news constituency has given the saffron party an extra edge over the ruling Trinamool Congress in the state and the Left. Gangopadhyay, who joined the BJP in March after his resignation as judge of the Calcutta High Court, has become a household name in Bengal because of his multiple orders in the alleged West Bengal school jobs scam.

Defection to BJP

Mamata Banerjee-led TMC has nominated party youth wing member Debangshu Bhattacharya, who coined the “Khela Hobe” slogan for the party ahead of the 2021 state Assembly elections. CPI(M) has fielded Sayan Banerjee from Tamluk, a historical city.

Out of the eight seats, where people are set to exercise their democratic right on Saturday, the BJP had won five and TMC bagged three, including Tamluk and Kanthi, in the 2019 LS elections.

In the last parliamentary elections, Adhikari family patriarch Sisir Adhikari had won Kanthi constituency by a margin of over 1.10 lakh votes, while his son Dibyendu had cliched Tamluk by a margin of 1.90 lakh votes. Then Sisir Adhikari, a veteran political figure from Bengal, and his sons--Suvendu, Dibyendu, and Soumendu -- had held key political positions within the TMC in the region.

The balance of power in the region shifted in favour of the BJP after Suvendu Adhikari defected from the TMC to the saffron party in December 2020, barely months ahead of the state assembly polls, delivering a major jolt to Banerjee and her party. The Adhikari family politically drifted away from the TMC.

What is more, in the 2021 Assembly polls Suvendu had contested against Banerjee from Nandigram and defeated the Chief Minister by a slim margin of 1,956 votes. Nandigram comes under the Tamluk Lok Sabha constituency.

A prestige issue

Soumendu Adhikari, youngest of the Adhikari brothers, is contesting from Kanthi Lok Sabha constituency, also located in East Medinipur district. The twin battle for Tamluk and Kanthi has become a prestige issue for both Banerjee and Adhikaris.

“Let me make it clear that I will avenge my defeat in Nandigram. I have not forgotten it. BJP will not be there all the time, neither the ED nor the CBI will cradle him (Suvendu Adhikari) throughout his life. Not even the NIA or the income tax department will be with him forever. I will settle the score at any cost,” the chief minister said at a public meeting in Haldia earlier this month.

The BJP leadership is confident of increasing the number of seats in the penultimate round of voting in the state with Adhikaris in their side.

“In every seat (going to polls on May 25) BJP had consolidation from a long time ago. In the 2019 LS polls, we had won Jhargram, Medinipur, Purulia, Bankura, and Bishnupur. We were not able to win two seats (Tamluk and Kanthi) because there Adhikari family members fought. After that, Suvendu Adhikari joined our party. This is our added advantage. So, this time we are very hopeful. We will not allow Trinamool to win more than 10 seats in Bengal,” BJP’s Samik Bhattacharya told businessline.

Last time the saffron party lost Ghatal parliamentary seat too. Ghatal constituency, which is represented by two-time TMC MP and actor Deepak Adhikari, popularly known as Dev, is still a stronghold of the ruling party in the state. Bengal has 42 LS constituencies.

“Trinamool Congress expects to win all the eight seats in the sixth phase of elections,” said party leader Santanu Sen.