KOLKATA: Barrackpore, a famous British cantonment and once a booming industrial town, now has the sobriquet of a ‘crime city’. Now infamous for gang wars and shootouts, which have claimed a dozen lives in recent times, the town is jittery over potential violence the polls can bring on May 6.Trinamool’s sitting MP Dinesh Trivedi is locked in a bitter electoral battle with his associate-turned-foe Arjun Singh, a ruling party MLA who defected to the BJP last March. The BJP is at least aiming to give a scare to Trivedi who emerged as a giant killer in 2009, unseating six-time CPM MP Tarit Topdar.
The saffron brigade has made quick inroads into the constituency evident from the fact that it secured over 2.3 lakh votes in 2014 Lok Sabha polls, increasing its vote share by 18.36%.Singh switched loyalties from the Trinamool days after he was denied a ticket. “I was a four-time MLA from Bhatpara. After I joined the BJP, all electors who voted for Trinamool have followed me to the BJP and will support me,’’ said Singh, one of the founding members of the Trinamool.
Locals say, Singh, who is known as a Bahubali (strongman) in the area, used to look after the constituency for Trivedi but differences cropped up between the two. However, Trinamool leadership described Singh and his followers’ exit as a “housecleaning exercise’’. Sources in Trinamool said leader Mamata Banerjee had no choice other than to field Trivedi, a third time from Barrackpore. Trivedi stepped down as the railway minister in 2012, four days after presenting his first railway budget in which he increased passenger fares.
“A police commissionerate was established in Barrackpore by the Mamata government but the move failed to curb crime. Violent trade union movement during the Left Front regime in Bengal had forced several jute mills in the 280 square km industrial belt to shut down. After the change of guard in 2011, a new era of hooliganism and criminal activities started in Barrackpore,’’ said a local cable operator, who has to pay extortion money to run his business. Closure of jute mills triggered unemployment and crime.
Locals alleged crude bombs are as readily available here as gutka and paan masala and gangs have taken advantage of the construction business. Countless high-rises have already come up, or are under construction in the area.
“Most of the ruling party’s local leaders and workers are either engaged in the construction business or involved in supplying construction material. Whichever party came to power—Left or Trinamool — supported criminals and the gangs acted as leaders’ henchmen. This time we are hoping a new political party takes over’’ said a homemaker, who preferred anonymity.The BJP is banking on a chunk of Hindi speaking electors in the industrial belt. “A large section of labourers migrated from Bihar and Jharkhand when the area had a thriving business. Jute mills, in which many such worked, closed down but they stayed on. We have received their spontaneous support,” said a BJP leader.
In Howrah’s Uluberia Lok Sabha constituency, the BJP is already the main challenger with a 23.29% vote share and the saffron brigade is not only confident of retaining its position but also reducing the Trinamool’s 2018 bypoll margin. The constituency has a considerable percentage of minority electors. Both Trinamool and CPM have fielded candidates from the minority community and the BJP has pitted Bengali actor Joy Banerjee to take them on.
The LS seat is likely to witness a direct contest between the Trinamool and the BJP though all four major political parties have fielded candidates. The ruling party has fielded sitting MP Sajda Ahmed, wife of late former Union minister in Congress-led UPA government, Sultan Ahmed. Uluberia is one of the seats in the state with 40% Muslim population. The RSS and the BJP increased its presence following the communal flare up at Dhulagarh in 2016. While the BJP has been vocal over the Dhulagarh incident, the Trinamool is trying to portray it as BJP’s handiwork.