Elections 2021

Cyclone Amphan after-effects continue to buffet TMC in its stronghold

Poornima Joshi Diamond Harbour (South 24 Parganas | Updated on March 29, 2021

The largest district in West Bengal stood by Mamata Banerjee even during the Modi wave in 2019 but mismanagement and irregularities in cyclone relief are splitting her support base

Trinamool Congress is facing severe political after-effects of Cyclone Amphan in May 2020 that raged through districts where the ruling party had warded off the surging tide of the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections.

The TMC had won all the five Parliamentary Constituencies in this district — Kolkata Dakshin, Jadavpur, Diamond Harbour, Mathuranagar and Jayanagar in 2019. But this time, resentment over mismanagement and corruption in relief and rehabilitation after Cyclone Amphan has shaken the staunchest among Mamata Banerjee’s supporters. In areas around Diamond Harbour, won convincingly by Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek, those who do not want to support the BJP, are gravitating towards the Mahajot of the CPM-Congress and the Indian Secular Front (ISF) led by a locally influential cleric, Abbas Siddiqui.

 

“We got nothing from the Government. Our homes, shops, livelihood everything was destroyed in Amphan. But there was no help from the Government. We have always supported Didi but this time we want to change,” said Saidullah Lashkar. His brother Farooq Abdullah, at the same time, seemed angry but was not sure whether he would “leave Didi’s party”. The two brothers are voters in Abhishek Banerjee’s constituency and voted for him in the Lok Sabha.

The BJP has been quick to spot the brewing resentment. “Modiji had sent ₹10,000 crore for Amphan relief. Did you see any of it? ‘Bhatija’ (Abhishek Banerjee) and his friends siphoned off the funds,” said Amit Shah at a rally in Gosaba, an Assembly Constituency in South 24 Parganas on March 23. Shah promised to initiate an inquiry and punish the guilty in Amphan relief scam.

Shah’'s deputy in the Home Ministry Nityananda Rai had told Rajya Sabha in September last year, that the rehabilitation of people affected due to natural calamities, including a cyclone, is required to be undertaken by the concerned State Government from its own resources and Central Schemes. “Under the existing (SDRF)/NDRF guidelines, there is no provision to provide relief package for long-term rehabilitation and reconstruction measures. In order to support the affected people of the State, Central Government has released ₹1000 crore to Government of West Bengal, in advance, from National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF), on May 23, 2020. During the year 2020-21, an amount of ₹1348 crore has been allocated to West Bengal under the State Disaster Risk Management Fund (SDRMF) out of which, first instalment of Central share of SDRMF amounting to ₹505.50 crore has been released to Government of West Bengal on April 3, 2020,” Rai had said, answering a question.

The exact amount of Central assistance could be a matter of debate, given the heat of the elections but the reality is that the trajectory of the cyclone was through the TMC’s voter base and a CAG audit has been ordered by the Calcutta High Court of the Amphan relief funds after allegations of irregularities not just by the BJP but also the Left, Congress and independent activists. This is proving to be a big political miscalculation for Mamata Banerjee.

Frustrated voters

During a tour of the region, BusinessLine met a number of angry and frustrated voters who are looking to change the Government. A large crowd had gathered at Dolarhaat village Monday afternoon to hear “Peerzada” Abbas Siddiqui, popularly called “Bhaijaan”. “This time our vote goes to Mahajot. Bhaijaan is our leader. No one has done anything for us. We have been devastated after the Cyclone and people looted our money,” said Ali Hasan Mullah from Bagaria village who is seething with anger against the local MLA Jogaranjan Halder from Kulpi Assembly Constituency where he is a voter. “These people have looted us. Why should we suffer them? Bhaijaan is here now and our vote goes to him,” Mullah told BusinessLine.

According to economist Prasenjit Bose, who too was instrumental in filing PIL against the corruption in Amphan relief, the extent of Abbas Siddiqui’s influence may be limited but it is confined to areas where the TMC is strong. “He will hurt Mamata in areas she is the strongest. Aamphan struck people who supported her and the TMC went on a rampage in the name of relief,” said Bose.

The 31 Assembly Constituencies in South 24 Parganas were cited by TMC spokesperson Derek O’ Brien as among the certain seats that the ruling party could win.

Given the resentment witnessed on the ground, a splitting of TMC votes with the Left-led Mahajot could shake Mamata in her strongest bastion.

Published on March 29, 2021

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