Updated May 20th, 2024 at 09:39 IST

Exclusive/ 'Bengali Muslims Shifting Loyalties': BJP's Arjun Singh Optimistic As Barrackpore Battle Heats Up

'Both Abhishek and Mamata were trying to finish my political career. Why will I fight from outside Barrackpore when my karmabhoomi is here,' said Arjun Singh

Reported by: Sayan Ganguly
Arjun Singh confident of winning from Barrackpore by a bigger margin than last time | Image:X
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Kolkata: Barrackpore will witness a fierce battle between BJP strongman Arjun Singh and TMC government's influential minister Partha Bhowmick. It will be a prestige battle for Singh as he will be fighting to retain his stronghold. Denied ticket in 2019, Singh switched over to BJP and won with a resounding margin against TMC candidate Dinesh Trivedi. In 2022, Singh returned to TMC fold after a brief stint with BJP.

However, Singh joined BJP once again on the eve of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls as TMC overlooked him yet again. BJP has put its trust in Singh once again due to his winnability factor, said sources. Both Mamata and Abhishek Banerjee have campaigned extensively against Singh, terming his reign "anti-social" while the latter went on to say that if Singh loses this time, he will not be welcomed back to TMC. Will Singh be able to shut his critics once again?

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Speaking to Republic, Singh warned TMC that if there is poll violence in Barrackpore like last time, BJP will not stay quiet.


Here are the edited excerpts from the interview:

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Before the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections, you joined BJP. Then, you rejoined TMC in 2022. And, now you are a part of BJP again. What is behind this switch?

TMC thought that they will end my political career. In 2019 also, they predicted that I will lose by 2 lakh votes and my prospects will be ruined. They can't imagine how strong my hold is in Barrackpore.

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I already understood that both Mamata and Abhishek are playing games with me. They were trying to bluff me -- we are not going to field you from Barrackpore and give some other seat. I was already aware of what they were plotting against me from their inner circle. They were trying to finish my decades-long political career. Why will I fight from outside Barrackpore? This has always been my karmabhoomi. The TMC doesn't have that hold where I can win from anywhere in Bengal.

You have been with TMC for over two decades. From your experience, do you feel that the party is facing an existential threat?

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TMC party has no ideology. You can make it out from their selection of candidates that the party is losing its relevance. The party is trying to pull down their own leaders, who have a strong local base. Look at how TMC sidelined former state minister Tapas Roy. (Roy, who recently joined BJP, has been fielded against TMC's sitting MP Sudip Bandopadhyay from North Kolkata). Same is the case in Srirampur where they have fielded Kalyan Banerjee once again. This could be seen as a ploy by Abhishek Banerjee to save his skin.

Till the time Mamata is there, Abhishek won't be able to establish his leadership. Yet Mamata has handed over the reins of the party to him. There are many good leaders within the party that are not aligned with Abhishek's ideas. He is trying to finish them off one by one. If we perform as good as we thought we would from Bengal, I don't think Mamata would be able to save her party.

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Let me tell you one thing. In Barrackpore, the fight is not between TMC and me. TMC's biggest enemy is TMC itself. Every day, they are holding meetings to figure out who all are supporting me from within the party.

Abhishek Banerjee Running Cut-Money Company In Bengal, Claims Arjun Singh

90 per cent of the people in Bengal are deprived. The remaining 10 per cent, who have several TMC functionaries or leaders within their families, are depriving the rest. Whatever they loot from the people, they send it to Abhishek. Suppose they have collected Rs 30, they send Rs 10 to the party high command, saying that they have collected only Rs 20. As a result, the public is facing a higher burden and the party's credibility is going for a toss. For example, to build a house under PMAY, you need to pay Rs 40,000 to the gram pradhan. Otherwise, your name will not appear in the list of beneficiaries. Or even if it does, you will not receive the money. All the cut-money is collected by an individual named Sumit, who is a close aide of Abhishek.

Cross-border illegal infiltration is another poll issue in Bengal, which has been raised repeatedly by PM Narendra Modi and Amit Shah in their poll campaigns. What is your take on that?

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The government has lost all control. In a bid to secure her votebank, Mamata has given a free rein to gangsters. Shahjahan was only one out of many examples. Her only demand from these goons is to make the party win by any hook or crook. In return, they enjoy the protection of the local police. Due to the porous border, the districts, lying adjacent to Bangladesh, have become a hotbed for drugs and arms smuggling.

Bengal has a considerable Muslim population. Can you see BJP making any inroads there?

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The Bengali-speaking Muslim population is slowly losing their faith on Mamata. Depending on the area, they are tilting either towards the ISF or Congress. For example, in Murshidabad's Baharampur, most of the Bengali-speaking Muslims are supporting Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.

My plus point is that the Bengali Muslims in my constituency are expected to turn up in large numbers to vote for BJP. If this holds true, I will win by a record margin this time around. Last time, I won despite not getting votes from the Muslim community. But this time around, it will be different. Out of 19 percent Muslims in my constituency, nearly 16-17 per cent are Bengali-speaking. I had spent Rs 1.85 crore from my MPLADS fund to build cemeteries for them. In their minds, I have fulfilled their long-standing demand. This has built trust with

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There is palpable anger against Mamata and her party over corruption following the teachers' recruitment scam. The reason why you see high turnout in Bengal for all phases so far is because a lot of people, who were not allowed to vote during the Panchayat election, are coming out in large numbers to vote against TMC.

There have been instances of violence reported from all phases of voting in Bengal. In 2019, we saw you getting injured in clashes between TMC and BJP on the polling day. Do you think  poll violence will make headlines again as Barrackpore votes on Monday?

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Barrackpore is such a place that if you raise your hands, you will get beaten up. TMC workers have maintained peace so far over here. Hence, there is no reaction. Why was there violence in Barrackpore during the 2019 polls? So many of my workers were beaten up and their houses were attacked by TMC goons. There was a reaction from our end as well. I don't deny that. But, we got it all under control. What was even more dangerous was when senior TMC leader Madan Mitra came here and the whole area was marred by communal violence during the Bhatpara Assembly byelections. On camera, Madan Mitra had revealed that it was orchestrated by Mamata. I also hold Jyotipriya Mullick (TMC minister behind bars for PDS scam) and Partha Bhowmick (TMC minister fighting against Arjun Singh in 2024) for the violence that ensued after the 2021 Assembly results in Barrackpore, where several of our workers were killed.

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Published May 20th, 2024 at 08:50 IST