Chief minister Mamata Banerjee sprang a Sunday surprise by fielding Trinamul candidates Shatrughan Sinha from the Asansol Lok Sabha constituency and Babul Supriyo from the Ballygunge Assembly constituency for the April 12 bypolls.
Both Sinha and Supriyo are former BJP leaders and Union ministers.
“Happy to announce on behalf of the All India Trinamool Congress that Sri Shatrughan Sinha, former Union Minister and famed actor, will be our candidate in Loksabha by-election from Asansol,” tweeted Mamata in the afternoon.
“Sri Babul Supriyo, former union minister and noted singer, will be our candidate in Vidhansabha by-election from Ballygunge. Jai Hind, Jai Bangla, Jai Ma- Mati- Manush!” she tweeted.
The Asansol Lok Sabha seat was vacated in October last year by playback singer-turned-politician Supriyo after he joined Trinamul. Ballygunge in Calcutta needs a bypoll as its MLA, Trinamul stalwart Subrata Mukherjee, died in November last year.
Supriyo, who quit the BJP for Trinamul not long after being dropped as a junior minister by the Narendra Modi government, had publicly attributed the decision to his desire to feature in “the playing 11”. Speculation has been rife that Mamata may induct him into her cabinet.
“Thank you so so very much Respected Dear Didi. Cant thank you enough…. You have granted me the opportunity to serve the people of Bengal…,” tweeted Supriyo.
Several seniors in Trinamul admitted to being surprised — some, “pleasantly” so — by the choice of Sinha as the Lok Sabha candidate for Asansol.
“Many of us knew there was a strong likelihood of fielding Babul from an Assembly bypoll, because there is some consideration of inducting him into the state cabinet. But Sayani (Ghosh) from Asansol was deemed a foregone conclusion,” said a Trinamul insider, referring to the actor-turned-politician who helms the party’s youth wing. She is apparently a “favourite” of the party’s national general-secretary Abhishek Banerjee and“highly recommended” by poll consultant Prashant Kishor. Ghosh lost the Asansol South Assembly seat last summer, but was picked to succeed Abhishek to lead the youth wing, when he became national general-secretary in June.
“By bringing in Shatruji (Sinha), she (Mamata) showed us once again why there can’t be foregone conclusions in Trinamul... Therefore, one must also not take for granted Babul’s inclusion in the state cabinet,” said the insider. “What matters is how big an asset Shatruji may turn out to be for us against the BJP.”
The 76-year-old Sinha, who was the Union health and shipping minister from the Atal Bihari Vajpayee era, was a two-term member each of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. A fierce critic of the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duopoly, he was on good terms with Mamata since their time together in the Vajpayee cabinet.
The BJP insinuated that Mamata tried to sideline Abhishek by fielding Sinha instead of Ghosh.
“It was widely speculated that TMC would field Saayoni Ghosh, president of party’s youth wing, considered close to Abhishek Banerjee, from Asansol. But Mamata Banerjee, just to cut her nephew to size has fielded a complete outsider, not just for Asansol but Bengal, from the seat,” tweeted the BJP IT cell chief Amit Malviya, the party’s co-minder for Bengal.
By raising the “complete outsider” issue, the BJP was apparently trying to get back at Mamata who in the Assembly elections had dubbed the saffron as bohiragawto (outsider).
Goa review panel
Abhishek on Sunday formed a review committee to look into the party’s Goa debacle, with a meeting scheduled in the western state on March 26. The committee is headed by Ashok Tanwar, with Sushmita Dev and Sourav Chakraborty as deputies.
In Goa, a state chosen by Kishor and endorsed by Abhishek, Trinamul got zero seats and a vote share of 5.21 per cent (in the 26 out of 40 Assembly seats it contested in). Its ally, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, which won two seats, pledged support to the BJP immediately after the results.