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regular-article-logo Sunday, 14 April 2024

Hot potato Pawan Singh too much to handle: BJP drops controversial Asansol LS pick

BJP had barely 24 hours ago announced Singh’s candidature, but was forced to backtrack after the Trinamul Congress took to social media and the mainstream media to express outrage, accusing the Bengal Opposition party of condoning acts of misogyny

Abhijeet Chatterjee, Snehamoy Chakraborty Calcutta, Durgapur Published 04.03.24, 06:21 AM
Pawan Singh.

Pawan Singh. File Photo

The BJP on Sunday withdrew Bhojpuri actor-singer Pawan Singh as its candidate for the Asansol Lok Sabha seat after a Trinamul-led outcry against his misogynistic utterances and uncharitable references to Bengali women in songs.

The BJP had barely 24 hours ago announced Singh’s candidature, but was forced
to backtrack after the Trinamul Congress took to social media and the mainstream media to express outrage, accusing the Bengal Opposition party of condoning acts of misogyny.

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On Sunday afternoon, Singh said in a post on X in Hindi: “I express my heartfelt gratitude to the top leadership of the BJP. The party trusted me and declared me as the candidate from Asansol, but because of some reasons, I will not be able to contest the elections from Asansol. @JPNadda.”

Although it was unclear initially whether Singh had stood down or was made to do so by the BJP — Trinamul national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee and other leaders had pounced on the opportunity to claim victory — BJP sources later said the actor had been asked to issue the statement.

The sources attributed the decision not only to discomfort over Singh’s alleged acts of misogyny, but also to the local leadership’s displeasure at the choice of an “outsider” when at least two other contenders had been working on the ground for years.

“It could have boomeranged for us after these objections and outrage from Trinamul and even sections of the BJP. We do not want any controversy surrounding women at a time when we have pitched the atrocities on women in Sandeshkhali as the most major issue for the Bengal campaign,” said a state unit functionary of the BJP.

Singh’s discography has several songs with allegedly objectionable references to Bengali women.

Even BJP veteran and former Tripura and Meghalaya governor Tathagata Roy had urged a “fresh look” at Asansol.

BJP workers during an election campaign in support of party candidate Sukanta Majumdar in Balurghat on Sunday.

BJP workers during an election campaign in support of party candidate Sukanta Majumdar in Balurghat on Sunday. PTI picture

“Unlike TMC, where candidature is decided by the whims and fancies of one woman, BJP chooses its candidates on a systematic survey. However, the surveyors are not infallible nor free from prejudice. A fresh look at Asansol is called for. Immediately,” Roy had said in a statement.

After Singh’s statement, the BJP issued a revised list of 19 candidates excluding him.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee has already announced that the party’s Asansol MP, actor Shatrughan Sinha, will be fielded again.

“The party will announce another candidate from Asansol shortly. The name could figure on the next list of candidates,” a state BJP leader said.

“Yes, the misogyny allegations were a factor. But the displeasure on the ground, from our own people, was the main worry,” he added.

Singh’s candidature had increased the BJP’s discomfort in the wake of questions being raised over the choice of several other nominees, including Soumendu Adhikari, brother of leader of the Opposition Suvendu Adhikari.

There is an undercurrent of general discontent within the party as Midnapore MP and former state unit chief Dilip Ghosh’s name was not on the first list. “Some strange exclusions and the inclusion of Singh have caused some problems. We have eliminated the Singh issue, at least. It shows we are willing to act promptly when there is some error in judgement,” said a state BJP functionary.

Asansol is deemed a BJP stronghold and is considered to be significant for the party in the Lok Sabha polls against the backdrop of Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking the party’s Bengal chapter to aim for victory in all 42 seats in Bengal.

Singer Babul Supriyo had represented Asansol twice as a BJP MP since 2014, but after he defected to Trinamul, Mamata chose Shatrughan for the seat.

On Sunday, within minutes of Singh’s X post, Abhishek claimed the move was a victory of the power of the people of Bengal. “The indomitable spirit and power of the people of West Bengal,” Abhishek wrote, reposting Singh’s post.

A battery of senior Trinamul leaders, including Rajya Sabha members Derek O’Brien, Sagarika Ghose, Saket Gokhale and Sushmita Dev, followed suit to claim that the withdrawal of the BJP candidate was a result of Trinamul’s protests.

“Breaking news. @AITCofficial impact! @BJP4India Asansol candidate withdraws after huge backlash on the candidate’s sexist misogynist videos. The @BJP4India’s “nari shakti” call in Bengal now lies in tatters, revealed for what is — hollow and meaningless,” Ghose wrote on X.

A section of BJP leaders said similar accusations had poured in from several party leaders in Asansol as well.

“The party had misjudged the tastes of the people of Asansol, especially women. Several objections came from inside the party itself as his nomination from Asansol might not have an impact in that particular Lok Sabha seat but in other districts like Bankura, Purulia, East Burdwan, and Birbhum,” said a senior BJP leader in Asansol.

Asansol is an industrial pocket in the western part of south Bengal, having a Hindi-speaking population of at least 24 per cent spread over the Asansol, Raniganj, Pandabeswar and Kulti Assembly segments.

A BJP leader said the party had fielded the 38-year-old from Bihar’s Arrah to negate the popularity of Patna boy Shatrughan, keeping the Hindi-speaking voters in mind.

Trinamul, however, said the decision to withdraw Singh had confirmed further how formidable all of Mamata’s candidates in Bengal were.

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