Bengal Poll Notes: Too close to call
Three stops in the poll-bound state provide little clarity save one, namely the contest is close and margins will be wafer thin
Tarakeswar: The dominant colour in the temple down 55 kilometres from Kolkata is white with jasmine and Jasmine gardenia in full bloom. The silence on a hot, April morning is broken by pilgrims moving towards the 300-year-old Shiva temple and chanting, ‘Bhole Baba, Paar Karega’ (Lord Shiva will help us overcome).
BJP candidate Swapan Dasgupta’s campaign raised some eyebrows when BJP supporters hit the trail with shouts of ‘Ek hi naara, ek hi naam/ Jai Shri Raam, Jai Shri Raam’ (Only one slogan, only one name, glory to lord Raam). ‘When you are in Tarakeshwar, you praise only the glory of lord Shiva’, quipped a priest with a frown.
Dasgupta, Oxford educated, a Padma Bhushan recipient and till recently a Rajya Sabha member, is an unfamiliar figure but what is working for him is speculation that if BJP wins, he might become the chief minister. The Prime Minister’s election rally in his favour further fuelled the speculation.
He is described as an outsider by the TMC candidate Ramendu Singha Roy, a popular social worker. But Tarakeshwar has never had any problem with outsiders. It was represented by Ram Chatterjee for five terms though he was from Chandannagar; Mamata Banerjee had also fielded former IPS officer Rachpal Singh twice in 2011 and 2016 from here and he won.
What is also working for the BJP is the poor shape of the alleged tourist destination. Trip Advisor describes it as a “filthy place but historical and religiously important”. A survey in 2019 drew attention to the town’s unhygienic sewage system, choked drains, inadequate drinking water supply and absence of a proper hospital. The promise of ‘Poriborton’ does appeal to a large section.
SINGUR: Singur strikes one as a left- over metaphor of an absurdist play; a desolate, abandoned Tata Nano factory, confused farmers, with leaders talking at cross purposes. Singur had catapulted Mamata Banerjee to power and sharpened the development debate between pro-agriculture and pro-industry narratives between 2006 and 2011.
Two formidable commandants of the chief minister, Rabindra Bhattacharya (88) and Becharam Manna (45), are pitted against each other, the former a BJP candidate now and who speaks in favour of industry. Does he regret his role in opposing Tata’s Nano in 2006? “Times have changed. It was necessary then to back farmers. Leftists were wrong in their handling of the land acquisition issue,” he explains.
Singur’s ideological confusion does not end there. While BJP was seen to have staged a coup by poaching the octogenarian, Banerjee is seen as salvaging the situation by not letting Becharam Manna, BJP’s original target, to leave. She offered Manna and his wife two constituencies to contest –Singur and Haripal.
In and around the congested urban sprawl in Singur, People speak sneeringly of the 88-year-old ‘mastermosai”; but some also admire his honesty.
The effort of the Left to reclaim Singur by fielding a young postgraduate from Jadavpur University, Srijan Bhattacharya, also lent an edge to the contest here with the youth rallying round him.
“Singur represented the end of a dream, of industrializing Bengal when Tatas withdrew in September 2008. Now from the debris, a new dream will take shape”, Srijan says, adding, “people now realise that the former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya was right”. A vegetable vendor, Sanat Ruidas says, “that young man has a chance, I think”.
Dhaniakhali: This hub of cotton saree weavers is known internationally. The sarees are simply called Dhaniakhali saree. We meet a retired school teacher, Satosh Roy, who recites a dialogue from a Jatra (Bengali folk theatre) to give us a sense of politics at play. Paraphrased, it conveyed that ‘mist is spreading on the stage, characters move in and out and costumes change’. Figure that.
People here we speak to look at politics and elections cynically. Defections, deception and corruption, they say, have been part of all regimes. The minister of Technical Education, Ashima Patra, was elected from this constituency twice. This time her fight is with BJP’s Tushar Mazumdar, a para-medic from Pandua. Both parties, people confirm, have been aggressive and the minister has been confronted by angry voters.
Traditional weavers are bitter. “In a constituency where 47% of people belong to scheduled caste and scheduled tribes, not much has changed. Work was given to only those who were loyal to the ruling party,” complains Asim Saha. Congress candidate Anirban Saha backed by the Left also complains of intimidatory tactics by the legislator’s “goons”, an allegation Patra vehemently denies.
Are these the straws in the wind?