The Trinamul Congress leadership is opting for a centralised selection of some 50,000 candidates for the panchayat polls, scheduled early next year, the decision indicating a firmer grip of the party’s national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee in organisational affairs.
Multiple sources in the party told this correspondent that the state leadership has conveyed to the district leaderships that they have to send at least three names for each seat in the three tiers — gram panchayat, panchayat samiti and zilla parishad — to Calcutta after the festive season.
“The names will be cross-checked by the surveyors who would find out the fittest candidates.... This apart, senior leaders, including observers of the specific districts, have also been asked to scan the performance and acceptance of the existing members of the rural bodies and submit a report. After a series of cross-checks, the names of the final candidates will be announced centrally,” said a senior Trinamul leader in Calcutta.
In the earlier two panchayat elections, Trinamul did not have such a centralised system to select candidates.
Although there was some monitoring from Calcutta on selection of some names for zilla parishad seats, district and local leaderships almost had a free run to select candidates for gram panchayats and panchayat samitis.
Bengal has 3,343 gram panchayats, 332 panchayat samitis and 18 zilla parishads in the three-tier panchayat system.
In the 2018 panchayat elections, the ruling party was accused of using force and violence to deter Opposition candidates from filing nominations in a large number of seats, resulting in a large number of uncontested wins.
The Trinamul leadership, especially its national general secretary Abhishek, indicated several times in recent months that the party would not allow any repeat of 2018 and that panchayat polls would be conducted in a free and fair environment.
Abhishek has also indicated that due diligence would be done in selecting candidates.
Trinamul, under the guidance of I-PAC led by poll consultant Prashant Kishor, had taken the same move — centralised selection — while finalising the candidates in the 2021 Assembly polls.
Several party insiders had held that the move was one of the few reasons behind the party’s thumping return to power in the state for the third consecutive time.
“However, the job that Team PK did ahead of the Assembly polls was much easier as there were only 294 candidates to select then. It will indeed be a Herculean task for the party to select 50,000 candidates through a rigorous process. But the leadership, mainly Abhishek, wants the centralised system of selection to ensure good candidates for the panchayat elections,” a source said.
The decision of centralised selection of candidates, the source added, would keep the local strongmen away from the selection process.
“Candidate selection will be done completely by Abhishek’s office. Surveyors and senior leaders have already started visiting their respective districts to scan the performance of the existing members in the three-tier panchayat system. Those with a clean image and acceptance among villages will get tickets,” said a senior Trinamul leader.
Sources in Trinamul said the party was also keeping strict vigil on seats where the incumbents had won uncontested in 2018.
“During the Assembly polls, we found that those who won uncontested were less interested in working for the people on the ground. Local people are also against those who were basically not elected by them (in a fair democratic process),” said a source.
While the Trinamul leadership is confident about proper candidate selection by using the centralised process, it is also aware about the possibility of those not given tickets filing nominations as Independents.
However, Trinamul doesn’t seem too worried about it. “If good candidates are selected in a proper process, few Independents here and there would not make any difference,” said a party source.