Mamata Brings ‘Bihari Babu’ Shatrughan Sinha into Bengal Poll Politics, BJP Hits Back with ‘Bahari’ Barb

It’s election season again in West Bengal. Two bypolls will be held on April 12— one for the Asansol Lok Sabha constituency and another for the Ballygunge assembly seat. Though these elections do not carry the hype of regular ones, there is a buzz. That is because the state’s ruling Trinamool Congress has fielded Shatrughan Sinha as its Asansol candidate, adding more interest to the contest.

Asansol for the past 10 years has been a Bharatiya Janata Party stronghold. Singer-politician Babul Supriyo had been the area MP since 2014. He resigned from the seat late last year and switched from the BJP to TMC, necessitating a bypoll.

Now popular actor and politician Shatrughan Sinha is Trinamool’s nominee for Asansol while Babul has been fielded in the assembly constituency of Ballygunge.

But the TMC picking ‘Bihari Babu’, as Sinha is also known, has allowed the BJP the opportunity to raise the “bahari” (outsider) issue that Trinamool had targeted the saffron party with in last year’s assembly elections.

Sinha, a former union minister under BJP, though told News18, “I stand on the faith that Mamata Banerjee has placed in me. We must see to it that all come together so that all can be developed, made better, and Bengal can be taken forward.”

So why Shatrughan Sinha from Asansol?

TMC insiders say that Babul wanted to work for various areas of Bengal, so he might be allocated duties that are state-specific. That is why he has not been given the MP ticket.

Secondly, since local Trinamool leaders of Asansol had fought against Babul for 10 years, there might have been an awkward situation.

Thirdly, the new face will represent a fresh approach for party workers and it will be difficult for the opposition to counter it, they say.

Asansol has a more than 40% non-Bengali population. The area is studded with coal mines, and a lot of the workers there are from Bihar.

So, versatile actor Shatrughan Sinha’s ‘Bihari Babu’ image may woo a significant section of the voters in Asansol.

Keeping in view all of the abovementioned reasons, Sinha seemed to be an apt choice, say Trinamool leaders.

“Bengali language, culture…I like it very much. I have done a lot of Bengali movies. I have been in touch with Bengal from the very beginning,” Sinha told News18. “There are people from all over India living there. People from all over the country including Bihar, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra live in Asansol, Durgapur.”

But the BJP is now trying to pay the TMC back in its own coin by trying to capture the “bahari” narrative. Trinamool led by chief minister Mamata Banerjee attempted to portray BJP leaders as “outsiders” in the run-up to last year’s assembly polls, while emphasising on Bengali nationalism.

Commenting on the BJP’s tactics, Sinha said, “If I am called a ‘bohiragato’ (outsider), then what is Modiji in Varanasi? Bihar, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Bengal have all been liked by everyone, so I have become an acceptable star. Can Hindustan be divided in this way?”

As Shatrughan Sinha’s name was declared by Mamata Banerjee from her Twitter handle, BJP leaders were ready with retorts.

Suvendu Adhikari’s tweets refer to a speech by TMC MLA Manoranjan Byapari, purportedly saying unflattering things about Bihari people.

Byapari though said his speech was not targeted at all Biharis and he will campaign for Shatrughan Sinha if the party wants him to.

BJP plans to use the “outsider” card liberally in the coming days.

TMC, however, appears confident of Sinha’s chances. He and Babul Supriyo will also be campaigning for each other. The BJP is expected to field local leader Jiten Tiwari (former TMC person) from Asansol.

Sinha mentioned that his daughter, popular actress Sonakshi Sinha, will come to campaign in Asansol for him.

“I have a long-standing relationship with Mamata Banerjee. She is a very affectionate, good person. I owe her a lot. She has declared my name herself.”

Calling the TMC chief the “tigress of Bengal”, Sinha said leaders like Mamata Banerjee are very rare in the country.

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