National

W. Bengal: A ‘well-calculated’ fight for every seat

Poornima Joshi Krishnanagar Uttar (Nadia district | Updated on March 31, 2021

Union Textile Minister Smriti Irani accompanies Mukul Roy, the BJP’s candidate from Krishnanagar North constituency, during a rally to submit his nomination papers for the upcoming Assembly elections in West Bengal   -  PTI

CAA-NRC and caste mobilisation help BJP in seats bordering Bangladesh, but the TMC has fought back fiercely with good candidates and aggressive welfarism

TMC’s famous turncoat Mukul Roy’s campaign from this largely rural hamlet bordering Bangladesh is an almost copybook illustration of the fierce contest between the incumbent Trinamool Congress and the BJP in Bengal.

Anti-incumbency being the sharpest among the BJP’s all-guns-blazing offensive against the ruling party, candidate Mukul Roy’s credentials as the fabled former munshi (accountant) of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, would have expected to dent his prospects in this seat. But in the words of the resident wise man of this semi-rural hamlet, the BJP has a potent back-up of “communalism and capital” to make up for its weaknesses on other fronts. And “communalism” is another word for sentiments whipped on Citizenship (Amendment) Act and National Register of Citizens (NRC) in these parts.

The common spiel being “Didi is popular but her party is rotten”, Mamata and her canny lieutenant Prashant Kishore have replaced over 100 sitting MLAs with new faces to neutralise the anti-incumbency factor. In Krishnanagar Uttar, where the MP Mohua Moitra has abetted the purification drive, the newbie actor Kaushani Mukherjee has been painting the town in the TMC’s representative blue colour, dancing with the local voters on the dhak (local membranophone instrument), ostensibly for infusing fresh energy in the party’s campaign. The BJP, while it talks about TMC and its “systemic corruption”, has fielded Mukul Roy, an accused in the Sharda chit fund scam and Narda sting operation. The local bigwig and former TMC strongman, Gauri Shankar Dutta, who was MLA from the neighbouring Tahatta constituency, and his son Ayan Dutta, too, have thrown in their lot with the BJP.

But it does not dilute the BJP’s currency here, where the party took a staggering lead of 53,551 votes in this particular Assembly segment (Krishnanagar Uttar) during the Lok Sabha elections in 2019.

“People talk about the TMCs corruption, but they do not seem to have a problem with Mukul Roy. And now he is being supported by Gauri Shankar Dutta and his son who had made the TMC unpopular when they were part of it. I am personally appalled, but it does not seem to affect many people, especially in the town. I think there is a latent level of polarisation on communal lines, which the BJP has permanently drawn by the CAA-NRC discourse,” said Sheshadri Roy, a local activist against CAA-NRC.

In the town post office, the talk about Mukul Roy’s candidature and the support he is drawing from Gauri Shankar Dutta eventually leads to the structural issues of the TMC. “Who started it? This corruption, Hindu-Muslim divide, it was done by Mamata Banerjee. Now she is facing the wrong side of it,” said a local shopkeeper who did not want to be named.

Trinamool’s pushback

But the ruling party is not letting it be a smooth ride for the BJP. After the 2019 jolt to the party, especially in the neighbouring Parliamentary constituency of Ranaghat, which, too, falls in the Haldia district, the TMC has not just shuffled a lot of local MLAs and given tickets to new candidates, it has stepped up its welfare activities and delivery systems.

Ranaghat is a reserved constituency where the BJP’s campaign for citizenship rights for the Matuas, a Scheduled Caste community from across the border from Bangladesh, had paid dividends in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. In the seven Assembly segments comprising Ranaghat Lok Sabha seat, the BJP MP Jagannath Sarkar’s lead over his nearest TMC rival Rupali Biswas, was between 30-60000 votes. In all Assembly segments, except Nabadweep, Sarkar polled between 1,01,131 to 1,24,507 votes.

This time around, the TMC has fielded local strongmen and activist candidates from some of these seats. From Ranaghat Uttar Paschim constituency, where the BJP had polled 1,16,837 votes in the Lok Sabha polls, TMC has fielded local strongman Shankar Singha, who has been a Congress MLA in the past, and belongs to an influential family in the area. Singha and his son have joined the BJP and his son has been fielded from Chakdah Assembly constituency, where the BJP had polled 1,01,131 votes in the Lok Sabha polls. Singh and his son have pressed on with the welfare schemes launched by the TMC, especially the Duare Sarkar (government at your doorstep) and Health Cards, free rations and relief during the Covid-19 lockdown, and post-Amphan relief work. From Ranaghat Dakshin seat, Barnali Dey, too, exhibited similar enthusiasm for relief and ration distribution during the Covid-19 lockdown and a number of women and rural voters support them.

“There is the impact of Hindu-Muslim divide post the CAA passage. But the TMC has given tickets to really good candidates this time. This will have an impact in Ranaghat,” said Surojit Borai, a local voter.

So, TMC is giving it as good as it has got, especially in seats where the BJP had done exceptionally well in the last Lok Sabha elections. For every seat, there is a fight in these parts.

Published on March 31, 2021

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