The party had apparently offered a ticket to Ganguly for the 2014 general elections.

 

The Bharatiya Janata Party has stepped up efforts to get Sourav Ganguly on board in West Bengal, a state where it has made a massive upgrade in cadre strength and voter base in recent times. Sources said that the national party, which is hunting for a formidable local face to take on Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, has offered a meaty role to the former Indian skipper.

The initiative follows developments during the 2014 general elections when the BJP had apparently offered a ticket to Ganguly, who remains a popular face in Bengal even after his retirement from cricket. But “dada”, as Sourav is popularly called, was not sure of the BJP’s prospects in the state, given the fact that the party lacked a robust organisational structure at the time. He is also said to have turned down the TMC’s offer to contest election.

The BJP, which in recent years has penetrated West Bengal in a big way, is hopeful that the talks would materialise this time. The vote share of the party has increased from about 10% in the 2016 Assembly elections to nearly 30% in several Assembly byelections and few Parliamentary bypolls. If these results are anything to go by, the BJP has positioned itself as the number two party in the state after the ruling TMC. In the recently concluded panchayat polls in Bengal, the BJP secured more than 6,000 seats. It was an increase of more than 100% from the last panchayat elections of 2013 when it was not able to win a single seat.

A top source familiar with the development told The Sunday Guardian: “He is someone who is as popular, if not more, as Mamata. He has a clean image, he is not an outsider and people here just love him. He is known for standing up in adversarial circumstances. We need him to make a visible impact in West Bengal in the 2019 polls and the 2021 Assembly elections. The discussions have been happening for some time now. No time frame can be given right now (on when, or if,  he would join the BJP), but if it happens, it will happen before the end of 2018.”

The BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), according to sources, are treating West Bengal as the next Uttar Pradesh and putting in all out efforts to win the maximum number of seats.

“It is our top priority state right now. Out of the 42 seats there, we intend to give a tough fight on at least 30 seats which we have identified. You must understand that in the past, we had absolutely no interest or structure in the state. Compare that with our current position in Bengal. We have now both intent and structure in Bengal. Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah are focused on Bengal, not just for electoral reasons, but due to strategic reasons as well,” said a source in the RSS.

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