BJP fields SS Ahluwalia in south
The BJP on Sunday finally announced the name of S.S. Ahluwalia, the outgoing MP of Darjeeling, as the candidate for the Burdwan-Durgapur Lok Sabha seat, barely 48 hours before filing of nominations closes.
In 2014, Ahluwalia had contested from Darjeeling and defeated Trinamul’s Bhaichung Bhutia by around two lakh votes.
However, during the statehood agitation in the Darjeeling hills in 2017, the MP witnessed protests over his absence from the area.
The GNLF that has backed the BJP’s current Darjeeling candidate Raju Bista had filed a missing diary against Ahluwalia with police as a mark of protest.
The Binay Tamang faction of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and most other hill parties were also vociferous in their protests against Ahluwalia and asked why he did not visit the hills or intervene during the agitation.
Further, Ahluwalia ruffled many Darjeeling political leaders’ feathers recently.
Asked about a demand raised by most parties in the hills that somebody who is a “son of the soil” be the Lok Sabha poll candidate in Darjeeling, the Union minister said many leaders who wanted such a contestant “were born in Nepal”.
“Ahluwalia was not in our thoughts for the Burdwan-Durgapur Lok Sabha seat initially. But after he was denied candidature from the hills, we considered him and the central leadership announced his name,” said BJP Bengal president Dilip Ghosh.
Ahluwalia was born and brought up in neighbouring Asansol and studied at Burdwan University.
Sources said the BJP had nominated him for Burdwan-Durgapur to prevent a conflict between the old guard and the newcomers to the BJP in the West Burdwan district.
There were speculations that expelled CPM leader Ainul Haque who joined the BJP recently might be declared as the candidate. “Several senior leaders threatened to quit the BJP if Haque was nominated,” said a source.
BJP workers had been losing patience over immense delay in announcing the candidate for the Burdwan-Durgapur seat.
“In absence of a candidate, we preferred to stay indoors and didn’t start the campaign,” a local BJP leader said.
Ahluwalia had been considered for the seat earlier but a large section of the party’s rank and file in West Burdwan didn’t want him either.
“There were allegations that Ahluwalia was rarely seen in his previous constituency especially when the hills were on the boil. Moreover, he has not done anything significant in Darjeeling and Trinamul and other rival parties will get a plank to attack us,” said a BJP leader in Durgapur.
Contacted, Ahluwalia, who was in Delhi, said he would reach Bengal on Sunday night and start the campaign from Monday.
“It is like returning to my own soil. We will work together,” he told reporters.
On Friday a BJP leader in Durgapur wrote to party national president Amit Shah, Bengal minder Kailash Vijayvargiya and the Prime Minister’s Office, demanding Narendra Modi be fielded from the seat “looking at a miracle”.