A battle of former spouses-turned-political foes looms over Bishnupur

While locals highlight drinking water crisis in the areas, the TMC candidate insisted that efforts are being made to address the issue

BJP candidate from Bishnupur constituency Soumitra Khan files nomination papers in Bankura 29 April (photo: PTI)
BJP candidate from Bishnupur constituency Soumitra Khan files nomination papers in Bankura 29 April (photo: PTI)


Drinking water crisis and demand for better roads resonate among the electorate in West Bengal's Bishnupur Lok Sabha constituency whose 'ex-factor' constitute a divorced couple, Saumitra Khan and Sujata Mondal, locked in an electoral battle as BJP and TMC candidates, respectively.

Despite being a CPI (M) bastion till 2014, Khan managed to break the stranglehold of the Left in the area by first winning the seat on a Trinamool ticket in 2014 and, subsequently, repeating the feat in 2019 after jumping ship to the BJP.

While locals highlighted the longstanding drinking water crisis in areas like Barjora, Sonamukhi, and Onda, the TMC candidate insisted that efforts were being made to address the issue.

Khan, fighting for a third consecutive term from Bishnupur, managed to marginally enhance his vote percentage to 46.25 last time around from his earlier 2014 performance where he bagged 45.5 per cent votes, to trump his nearest TMC rival by a margin of a little over 78,000 votes.

With the tides turning not only in Khan's political career but also in his personal life post-2019, the BJP leader currently finds himself face-to-face with his former wife, Sujata, on the opposite side of the state's political divide.

Ironically, it was Sujata, his wife then, who campaigned for Khan in Bishnupur back in 2019 after the leader was barred from entering the Bankura district on a Calcutta High Court order as a condition for granting him anticipatory bail in connection with criminal cases pending against him.

Khan had alleged he was falsely implicated by the TMC in cases of extortion from government job aspirants immediately after he switched over to the BJP.

Poll watchers believe that it was largely due to Sujata’s efforts that Khan was able to hold on to his seat in 2019. In December 2020 Sujata, by then estranged from her husband, moved to the TMC claiming she "never got the due recognition from the BJP for her efforts".

CM Mamata Banerjee during an election campaign in in Bankura
CM Mamata Banerjee during an election campaign in in Bankura

She unsuccessfully contested the 2021 state elections on a TMC ticket from the Arambagh segment in Hooghly district.

In the 2021 state elections, the TMC had won four and the BJP three of the seven Assembly seats within the Bishnupur Lok Sabha constituency.

Confident of her win this time Mondal said, "I will now get the opportunity to directly work for the people."

Speaking to PTI, she said people have got various benefits from the Mamata Banerjee government like Lakshmir Bhandar monthly monetary assistance scheme for women and Swasthya Sathi health insurance coverage and will choose her over the BJP or the CPI(M).

"This is my home ground and people know me," she asserted.

According to IMD data, Barjora receives only 857 mm of annual rainfall, the lowest in the district.

"Our main demand this election is that our acute drinking water crisis must be solved," Shampa Goswami of Sonamukhi said, claiming that most taps in the region have run dry.

Saumitra Khan, the incumbent MP, faced criticism for his alleged absence and unfulfilled promises. However, BJP MLA Amarnath Sakha defended Khan's record, asserting his dedication to the constituency's development.

A resident of Onda assembly segment, Choton Pal, alleged that the MP has hardly been seen there since he won the elections five years ago.

"We find it difficult to reach hospitals in times of medical emergency owing to the horrible conditions of roads here," he said.

Echoing that bad roads and erratic drinking water supply are key issues, Uttam Mukherjee, another resident of the area, said they would have liked to see a "proactive approach" by the MP and local MLA which, allegedly, was missing.

Sakha, on the other hand, called these "false allegations", maintaining that Khan has put in a lot of effort for the development of Bishnupur.

"We are connected to the people all through the year. They may say whatever they want to, but the truth is that Khan has done a lot for the constituency," he told PTI.

"We will win by a higher margin than last time. This is a land of the BJP," he claimed.

Accusations of violence and intimidation during panchayat polls add to the contentious atmosphere, with the BJP claiming a stronger foothold in the region.

The CPI(M) has fielded, Shital Koiborto, a teacher in-charge of a school in Bankura's Joypur, who claims to be receiving good reception in the constituency.

"Joblessness, lack of proper efforts to promote tourism in the region, which has high potential owing to its heritage, natural beauty and art and craft, and failure to control erosion on the banks of Sali and Darakeswar rivers in the district are some of the burning issues which need to be addressed promptly," Koiborto said.

In the 2021 assembly elections, Barjora, Bishnupur, Kotulpur and Khandaghosh segments were won by the TMC, while the BJP had won in Indas, Sonamukhi and Onda.

While Khandaghosh is in Purba Bardhaman district, all the other six assembly segments are in Bankura district.

With the TMC and BJP almost evenly poised and the CPI(M) hoping for the people to return under its fold, the election in Bishnupur is set to witness a close battle, which goes to polls in the sixth phase on 25 May.

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