SAFFRON ON RED
THE WEEK|April 25, 2021
Can left veteran Ashok Bhattacharya overcome the BJP’s surge in Siliguri?
RABI BANERJEE

He was once called the king of Siliguri. But veteran communist leader Ashok Bhattacharya’s influence in the north Bengal city seems to be waning. This was evident in the thin crowd of supporters around him as he went about seeking votes for the seventh consecutive time. The sitting MLA has won all but one (2011) election from Siliguri since 1991.

Once a heavyweight minister in the Jyoti Basu and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee governments, Bhattacharya was seen as a development man who brought together the varied sections of the Siliguri population. The city is close to Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Tibet, and is seen as an important strategic point for India.

Wearing a plain shirt and crumpled trousers, Bhattacharya extended his hands to voters while campaigning. “Vote for our future. Do not vote emotionally,” he told them. The people smiled, but did not commit. The violence in the state has marred the flavour of the elections this time.

Bhattacharya, who has previously survived challenges from Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress, is now on a sticky wicket because of the recent saffron surge. His confidant Sankar Ghosh has joined the BJP. An internal study by the BJP had found that it was Bhattacharya and not Mamata, who was its main challenge in Siliguri. And so, a coup was apparently arranged. Ghosh and several others switched to the BJP. He will now take on Bhattacharya.

Asked about this, an unflustered Bhattacharya said, “I am not at all worried about who has left me. I have groomed many others. If they desert me, it is their own problem. Mind my words, I will win this seat again.”

Bhattacharya is also known as the bridge between the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the influential people in the state, including superstar actors and sports legends.

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