There is just one seat out of seven in Bengal voting in the fifth phase of the Lok Sabha elections on May 6, which can assure the Trinamool of a comfortable victory. This article explains how the BJP is breathing down Mamata Banerjee’s neck in the other six.
If the voters in Bongaon of Bengal bordering Bangladesh hailing Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the agreement with Sheikh Hasina was not bad news enough for the Trinamool this election, the demographics of the six other constituencies that are voting today would give chief minister Mamata Banerjee sleepless nights too.
The exchange of enclaves along the Bengal-Bangladesh border has ensured that the people who are on this side are now Indian citizens with requisite bona fides. While one may argue that Bangladeshi infiltrators masquerade as Indians and many of them carry credentials like the voter id card, life is not easy for these sinister elements. And the Bongaon residents referred to here are not among them. And they have been turned into Indians not by Jyoti Basu’s or Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s CPI(M) or Banerjee’s Trinamool but by the BJP’s biggest star, the prime minister.
Add to that the fact that, unlike a largely unaffected metropolitan Kolkata, you do not have to persuade a Hindu of these areas about the scourge of infiltration. This is double whammy for Banerjee, as both Muslim and Hindu votes here are going against her party in Bongaon.
The fifth phase happens to be one where the constituencies subjected to vote were dominated by the Trinamool in the 2014 election. Thanks to the saffron surge — which was observed on the last occasion too although the numbers were not seat-clinching — aided by movements like the two annual Ram Navamis, the Hindi-speaking populace of these areas, who had had a soft corner for the BJP for ages, are now feeling emboldened.
No wonder, a former Union railway minister, Dinesh Trivedi, feels shaken and the BJP candidate in Barrackpore, Arjun Singh, is assaulted. The two big issues in this constituency are closed jute mills and jobs besides nationalism.
Now, despite the opposition attempt made across India to project the current central government as a failure on the employment front, that wouldn’t work in this constituency. For, reopening of the jute mills from here up to Purulia has been an issue since the CPI(M) era, and nobody here blames the Centre for it. From the Left Front to undivided Congress to Trinamool, each one promised they would re-open these mills. All the three failed.
That leaves the arena with nationalism as the other issue, where PM Modi has no parallel in the mindscape of the people where the chant of ‘Jai Sri Ram’ reverberates louder than in other parts of Durga-worshipping Bengal.
Former footballer Prasun Banerjee has an edge here, but the pathetic condition of roads does not make his victory a foregone conclusion. This is another constituency with a considerable population of Hindi speakers while sizeable Muslims, though a minority, play a decisive role. Chief minister Banerjee and finance minister Amit Mitra may claim their health schemes are better than PM Modi’s annual insurance policy, villages in the Howrah district would beg to disagree.
BJP’s Rantidev Sengupta, therefore, has a fighting chance here whereas Sumitra Adhikari of the Congress and Shubra Ghosh of the CPI(M) are at best also-ran.
Here, all the anti-BJP forces have amazingly repeated the opposition folly of Muslim-dominated Gujarat where Modi’s party used to stun them all. Both the Trinamool and the CPI(M) have fielded Muslim candidates here: Sajda Ahmed and Maqsooda Khatun respectively. Anupam Mallik of the BJP is the only Hindu candidate worth a reckoning here, as nobody is taking the Congress’s Shoma Ranishree Roy seriously.
This was a seat that was won continuously by the Left Front until 2009 when the Trinamool grabbed it. Ever since, the Trinamool has held the seat. While the Muslims of the area have more or less made up their minds in favour of the Trinamool here, Maqsooda Khatun claims the ‘ancient’ CPM supporters are returning to the communist fold again. If that is true, it’s bad news for the Trinamool, as a Muslim division of votes is a winner for the BJP.
5. Srirampur or Serampore
Bappi Lahiri may not have won this seat in 2014 for the BJP, but the 2.87 lakh votes he garnered, which was 22.29% of the votes polled, was formidable. The party’s Debajit Sarkar is challenging Trinamool’s two-time winner Kalyan Banerjee here, with Congress’s Debabrata Biswas and CPI(M) candidate Tirthankar Ray also in the fray.
The terrible condition of the roads, jobs and closed factories are issues here, too. What is working against the Trinamool here this time is the failure of the Bengal Business Summit year after year that has at best attracted companies like fast food and junk food makers.
Actor-turned-politician, the fiery Locket Chatterjee is the BJP candidate here, taking on Ratna Dey Nag of the Trinamool, Pradeep Saha of the CPI(M) and Pratul Saha of the Congress. It does not matter that the Bahujan Samaj Party and the CPI(ML) are in the field, too.
This seat reminds a political observer of one of the two big failures of BJP’s former intellectual face, the editor of The Pioneer and former Rajya Sabha MP, Chandan Mitra [the other failure was his inability to keep the BJD of Odisha in the NDA fold]. After losing the seat badly in 2014, he complained of the absence of security for BJP voters. While a pro-Trinamool law-and-order mechanism is a glaring reality of Bengal now, Mitra had hardly rallied so many voters of the area around that he could expect to win this constituency.
But Locket Chatterjee is a different mettle. She occupied television and print space more than Rupa Ganguly, whom perhaps the BJP’s central leadership prefers. While Trinamool’s Ratna Nag defeated CPI(M)’s Pradeep Saha easily from Hooghly the last time, nearly no improvement in the condition of roads, tourism infrastructure and health facilities is making the battle tough for the party ruling the state this time.
This is about the only seat where the Trinamool can be said to be placed comfortably. For, the people of Arambagh have this soft corner for the party ruling the state. They voted for the CPI(M) till the time it ruled. With the end of the Left Front rule in 2011, the voters here dumped the CPM and latched on to Trinamool in 2014. Mamata’s party has thereafter won the seat with huge margins. Trinamool’s Aparupa Poddar is once again in the fray in this seat.
Road, sanitation, civic amenities and closed factories are issues here too, but not much of a bother for the Trinamool in Arambagh.
Last Updated 3:29 PM IST