Seven months after she was inducted by the Bharatiya Janata Party and fielded in the March-April Bengal assembly polls against Trinamool Congress secretary general Partha Chatterjee, who won, popular Bengali actor Shrabanti Chatterjee announced on Twitter on Thursday that she was quitting the party.
Her decision instantly triggered a debate in the Bengal BJP, with several leaders questioning the induction of actors prior to the polls.
Before the elections — in which the BJP secured only 77 of the state’s 294 assembly seats against a target of 200 — more than a dozen television and movie personalities with no political background joined the saffron camp. The TMC, which started the trend before 2011, also fielded several actors and artists but ended the race with 213 seats. The only actor who brought success to the BJP is Hiranmay Chattopadhyay, popularly known as Hiran, who wrested the Kharagpur Sadar seat.
“Severing all ties with the BJP, the party for which I fought the last state elections. Reason being their lack of initiative and sincerity to further the cause of Bengal…,” tweeted Chatterjee. She was not seen in any BJP programme after the poll results were announced on May 2.
She lost from Behala West by 50,884 votes while the TMC leader recorded his fifth consecutive victory from the seat since 2001.
With TMC state general secretary Kunal Ghosh claiming that more celebrities who had joined the BJP will follow suit “because the party’s organisation in Bengal is collapsing,” the state’s BJP leaders expressed doubts about the pre-poll inductions.
Many accused the party’s central leaders such as national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya in whose presence Chatterjee joined the BJP in March. Head of the BJP’s national information and technology cell, Amit Malviya, and the then state president Dilip Ghosh were also present that day. Vijayvargiya and Malviya were put in charge of Bengal during the polls. Vijayvargiya has not visited Bengal since May.
The most vocal among the critics is former BJP state president Tathagata Roy, a retired technocrat who earlier served as Governor of Tripura and Meghalaya.
“I didn’t even know that Shrabanti was still in the BJP. This is good riddance. The party is in this position today because of leaders like Vijayvargiya. They are answerable for random induction of these actors. A huge sum of money was given to each of them towards election expenditure. I will not reveal the amount,” Roy, who has raised his voice against a section of central and state BJP leaders in recent months, said. Vijayvargiya could not be contacted despite efforts.
The celebrities are not the only ones who are a cause of worry for the state BJP leaders.
Though the BJP captured 77 seats, its tally in the assembly has now effectively come down to 70. Five BJP legislators have joined the TMC since June although none have resigned from the party yet. After wresting the Santipur and Dinhata seats from the BJP last month and retaining Samserganj and Jangipur in September, the ruling party now officially controls 217 of Bengal’s 294 constituencies.
The BJP also has many TMC turncoats who could not win seats. Among them, Rajib Banerjee, a former minister, returned to the ruling party on October 31. “I am repentant and ashamed. I was made to believe that BJP would usher in development and progress. I do not want people to make the same mistake and regret,” he said while switching allegiance for the second time in 10 months.
“We don’t want anyone to leave. Shrabanti can return if she wants to. However, it is time to review the selection process,” Bengal BJP’s chief spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya said on Thursday.
BJP’s state president Sukanta Majumdar said the actor’s exit was of no consequence as she was a not an organiser or mass leader.
“Several people who came to the BJP from other fields are facing professional crisis because they are not being hired. Rudranil Ghosh, despite being a proficient actor, has no work since one year,” said Majumdar, indirectly hinting at the TMC’s influence over the local movie industry.
“This is a baseless allegation. People in our industry are not hired because of their political background,” said TMC Lok Sabha member and actor Nusrat Jahan.
Ghosh, who unsuccessfully contested the Bhawanipore seat in south Kolkata in the March-April polls, was not available for his reaction.
Bengal BJP leaders said several popular actors such as Shrabanti Chatterjee, Payel Sarkar, Tanushree Chakraborty and Yash Dasgupta distanced themselves from the party after failing to win seats. Two actors, Rupa Bhattacharjee and Anindya Banerjee, left in August. Former actor Joy Banerjee, who joined the BJP years ago and was a member of the state committee, had quit earlier this week.
BJP’s biggest loss was the exit of Babul Supriyo. The Bollywood singer-turned politician, who won the Asansol Lok Sabha seat twice and served as Union minister of state for two terms, joined the TMC last month.
Only two actor-turned-politicians, who joined the BJP in 2015, have risen in the hierarchy. They are Roopa Ganguly and Locket Chatterjee.
Ganguly, who became nationally famous after playing the role of Draupadi in the television series Mahabharat in the 1980s, is now a Rajya Sabha member. She also won national awards for her movies. Chatterjee represents the Hooghly Lok Sabha seat. Both earlier headed the state Mahila Morcha, the BJP women’s wing.
BJP Lok Sabha member and state vice-president Arjun Singh feels that high expectations drive actors.
“Most people who come from the movie industry expect instant success and get disillusioned when their expectations are not met. These people thought we would come to power and now they want to leave. We must review the method of selecting people,” said Singh.