Kolkata North: TMC fights ‘TMC’ in battle reflecting party’s Old vs New debate

While TMC and BJP vie for supremacy in the constituency, the Left-Congress alliance too has shown seriousness for the seat by fielding veteran Congressman and former MP Pradip Bhattacharya from here.

Kolkata: If one acknowledges the seismic shift within the TMC owing to the re-emergence of the ‘old versus new’ debate that symbolises a larger power struggle between party veterans and its second rung leaders, there’s perhaps no better place to look for it than at the prestigious Kolkata North Lok Sabha constituency in West Bengal.

Encapsulating contemporary dynamics within the state’s ruling dispensation, seasoned parliamentarian and sitting TMC MP for the last three terms, Sudip Bandopadhyay, will take on his prime challenger, Tapas Roy, erstwhile four-time TMC MLA-turned-BJP candidate, whose departure from the Trinamool Congress catalysed the ‘old versus new’ discourse.

If Bandyopadhyay represents the TMC’s old guard and currently enjoys party supremo Mamata Banerjee’s confidence, then Roy surely embodied the sentiments of the new generation in Trinamool Congress where the two groups failed to coexist.

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While TMC and BJP vie for supremacy in the constituency, the Left-Congress alliance too has shown seriousness for the seat by fielding veteran Congressman and former MP Pradip Bhattacharya from here.

Kolkata North, a traditional Trinamool Congress stronghold since the party’s inception in 1998, holds immense political significance not just for the party but also for its challengers because of its proximity to the state’s power corridors.

That’s perhaps why an emerging challenge to the party’s dominance in a seat such as this born out of internal fissures could leave Banerjee more perturbed than most other challenges thrown at her by the opposition, experts feel.

“Kolkata North may be a TMC fortress. But this time, more than the BJP or Left-Congress, it has emerged as a textbook sample of infighting within the TMC. Don’t be surprised if you witness a major upset in this seat,” political analyst Biswanath Chakraborty told PTI.

The political dynamics of the Kolkata North seat was perhaps best explained by recently removed state general secretary of TMC, Kunal Ghosh, when he said, “Kolkata North, will have two candidates from the TMC… one fighting with a TMC symbol and the other with that of the BJP.”

Ghosh alleged that he suffered indignation after heaping praises on Roy at a non-political public event in the constituency in the run-up to the polls.

In a jolt to the Banerjee-led TMC, 67-year-old Roy who aspired for a party ticket, switched over to the BJP ahead of polls in March over re-nomination disagreements for 71-year-old Bandopadhyay from the seat.

Despite some efforts by a section of Trinamool leadership to retain Roy, who worked in various capacities both in the organisation and also in the state government, the leader quit the party and squarely blamed Bandopadhyay for it.

“Since the TMC was considering my candidature this time, Bandopadhyay orchestrated ED raids at my residence to malign me. He has no interest in serving the people but still wants to hold on to his chair. People will teach him a lesson,” Roy told PTI, referring to the agency’s day-long search operations conducted in January this year in connection with the state municipal jobs scam.

The former TMC deputy chief whip of the West Bengal assembly alleged that people are fed up with the “corruption and misrule of the TMC”.

Bandopadhyay, though, sounded confident of his victory and claimed that people retained full faith in the development policies of Mamata Banerjee.

“I am a loyal soldier of Banerjee. I am contesting for my fourth term because my party supremo has considered me fit enough for the seat,” he told PTI.

Bandopadhyay had twice represented the Lok Sabha seat, then called Calcutta North East, on TMC tickets in 1998 and 1999.

He moved over to the Congress after falling out with Banerjee in 2003, and contested the polls a year later. Though he failed to win, Bandyopadhyay ensured the defeat of the TMC candidate by splitting anti-Left votes.

In 2008, he returned to the TMC when strong winds of political change were blowing over the state post-Singur and Nandigram agitations.

There has been no looking back for Bandyopadhyay since his victory for the delimited Kolkata North seat in 2009 and was the party’s leader in Lok Sabha in his preceding term.

He was arrested by the CBI in connection with the Rose Valley Ponzi scam in 2017 and released on bail in 2018.

Political observers say strong murmurs to remove him from the seat gained traction when a power struggle broke out in the party in January 2022.

“Sudipda is not on good terms with most of the local leaders, MLAs, and councillors of North Kolkata. Whether these disgruntled leaders will work hard to ensure his victory is a million-dollar question. On the other hand, Tapas Roy is well acquainted with the party’s strengths and weaknesses in the area,” a TMC leader of North Kolkata said.

Kolkata North boasts a diverse demographic makeup, reflecting the rich tapestry of Kolkata’s cultural heritage. It comprises a mix of old-world charm characterised by heritage buildings alongside the emergence of upscale high-rises.

The constituency’s residents, predominantly from the ‘old Calcutta bhadralok’ community, embody a unique blend of tradition and contemporaries.

In 2019, Bandopadhyay won the seat by a margin of nearly 1.5 lakh votes by pocketing 50 per cent of votes polled over the BJP which had to remain content with a 36 per cent vote share.

The TMC maintained its winning streak in 2021 by bagging all seven assembly segments of the constituency.

Congress nominee Pradip Bhattacharya said he hoped to break the TMC-BJP binary in the seat.

“The people will vote for the Left-Congress alliance as voters have very well understood that the TMC and the BJP are two sides of the same coin,” he said.

The constituency’s 13 lakh voters, of whom 20 per cent are minorities and six per cent are scheduled caste community members, will poll on June 1 during the last phase of the Lok Sabha elections.

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