BANKURA/BISHNUPUR: West Bengal panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee is eyeing his first victory in Lok Sabha elections from Bankura constituency, once a Left bastion, even as political observers in Bengal predict a rough ride for the party heavyweight.
The BJP is all set to give Mukherjee a tough fight, as the party has made significant gains in the tribal-dominated constituency. The saffron party increased its vote share by nearly 16% compared to 2009, and is likely to increase its base further.
The Bankura Lok Sabha seat was held by Left veteran Basudeb Acharya since 1980 till 2014, when Trinamool candidate Moon Moon Sen, the actor daughter of Bengali film legend Suchitra Sen, trounced him by a margin of more than 98,000 votes. In the last panchayat elections, however, the BJP made significant inroads into the area with the help of the Sangh Parivar, especially the RSS. The RSS has been active in the areas inhabited by the tribals for over 10 years now.
Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee sprang a surprise when she fielded the panchayat minister from Bankura Lok Sabha constituency, replacing Moon Moon, who was pitted against Union minister and sitting BJP from Asansol Babul Supriyo. Decoding the constituency switch, Trinamool insiders said Mamata realised that Moon Moon might not win the constituency again.
Mukherjee, once a firebrand student leader, has been contesting elections since 1971 and this is his second attempt to secure a seat in Parliament. Bankura will vote on May 12, in the sixth of the seven-phase polls in Bengal. A former mayor of Kolkata Municipal Corporation, Mukherjee, joined Trinamool in 1999 after parting with the Congress. Ahead of the civic polls in 2005, he quit Trinamool following differences with party supremo Mamata and returned to the Congress. Five years later, he rejoined Mamata’s party.
While Mukherjee is confident about his victory, citing examples of his success as a panchayat minister, the BJP is highlighting the ruling party’s alleged terror in last year’s panchayat polls that resulted in the party winning 34% of seats uncontested.
"My work for the Public Health & Engineering Department, to boost water supply in the drought-affected district, will ensure my victory,” Mukherjee said.
During poll campaigns, BJP candidate Subhash Sarkar has been raking up incidents where Trinamool cadres did not allow candidates to file nominations and deprived people from exercising their franchise.
"People were waiting to vote. They experienced the terror of the ruling party. Candidates aspiring to contest the rural polls were thrashed and beaten up by their next-door neighbours, all Trinamool supporters. People will give them a befitting reply this time,” Sarkar said.
People were also critical of the state government’s ‘failure’ in reviving the terracotta art, which gives this district a unique distinction. “Our unique handiwork is dying,” said a terracotta artist.
The anger over violence before the panchayat polls last year also spread to Bishnupur Lok Sabha constituency, where the BJP has made significant political progress. The party’s vote bank jumped to 1.79 lakh in 2014 from 41,000 in 2009.
The voters rejected the Left candidate in 2014 and voted for Trinamool in Bishnupur. But the MP from this constituency, Saumitra Khan, defected to BJP recently.
Jangalmahal under security shroud
Elaborate security arrangements have been made to ensure peaceful and incident-free polling in West Bengal’s Jangalmahal, a former Maoist hotbed. Considering the sensitive security situation, the Election Commission has decided to deploy 602 companies of Central Armed Police Force (CAPF). “Forces in Jangalmahal have been briefed not to move in vehicles to minimize the risk of being targeted by Maoists. They have been directed to do check culverts and other places where the Maoists could plant improvised explosive devices,” a CAPF official said.