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Eye on 2014, BJP skips Howrah poll

Calcutta, May 14: The BJP central leadership today prevailed upon the Bengal unit not to field a candidate for the June 2 bypoll to the Howrah Lok Sabha seat, the move triggering speculation that the party wanted to keep its door ajar for Trinamul in 2014.

The BJP’s Asim Ghosh did not file his nomination during the day.

Bengal BJP chief Rahul Sinha told journalists later that the party’s national president, Rajnath Singh, had called him up during the day to convey the central leadership’s decision.

“Rajnathji told me that the central leadership does not want us to contest the Howrah bypoll. He said contesting a mere bypoll would be a wastage of energy and money. Instead, he wanted us to strengthen the organisation for the Lok Sabha polls,” he said.

The Howrah bypoll was necessitated after the death of Trinamul MP Ambika Banerjee.

Asked about the speculation of a tie-up, a state BJP secretary said: “Modiji (Narendra Modi) and Rajnathji (Rajnath Singh) praised Mamata Banerjee and her government during their visits to Bengal. This was despite us raising our voice against her party. It seems senior leaders don’t want to shut the door for a possible tie-up with Mamata.”

Mamata Banerjee, however, has not shown any inclination towards the BJP fearing a dip in the minority votes that catapulted her to power, sources said. She had bagged more than 60 per cent minority votes in the 2011 Assembly polls.

But the BJP appears keen on renewing its relationship with Trinamul. State BJP sources said several leaders, including MP Shahnawaz Hussain, had sent their best wishes to Mamata for her governance during their visits to Calcutta in the past couple of months.

While it is premature to say if there would be a BJP-Trinamul tie-up before next year’s Lok Sabha polls, the BJP’s withdrawal from the Howrah bypoll could prove to be an electoral gain for Mamata’s party.

In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP bagged 37,723 votes in Howrah, which was 3.8 per cent of the total votes polled. Trinamul’s Ambika Banerjee won the seat, defeating the CPM candidate by a margin of 37,392 votes.

“So, if the BJP’s 3.8 per cent votes fall into our kitty, it would help our nominee,” said a Trinamul general secretary.

The BJP, however, bagged over 4.5 per cent of the votes in the seven Assembly segments in Howrah Lok Sabha constituency in 2011.

Asked about the BJP central leadership’s decision not to field a candidate in Howrah, Ghosh said: “Had I contested the bypoll, I would have bagged more than 1 lakh votes. I can say this after interacting with the electorate.”

He added that the move had “disheartened party workers in Howrah” who wanted Ghosh to contest the bypoll.

BJP Rajya Sabha member Chandan Mitra, who is also the party’s observer for Bengal, said over phone from Delhi that the decision not to contest the bypoll was “our internal matter”. “Why should I discuss the party’s internal matter with the media?” he asked.