KOLKATA: It is being billed as a fight between a popular doctor — recognised by his work for the poor in the Bengal’s interiors — and the nephew of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for Diamond Harbour Lok Sabha constituency in South 24-Parganas district.
Though billed as a ‘David versus Goliath’ battle, the ruling Trinamool is on shaky ground in Diamond Habour, as it was here that it had seen a steep 13% erosion in its vote bank in 2014, while the BJP gained ground.
Mamata is counting on her nephew and sitting MP Abhishek Banerjee to put it past the affable and easily accessible Dr Fuad Halim, a general physician fielded by the CPM, the latter’s work for the poor in Kolkata’s slums and in the Sunderbans make him a strong contender for the seat.
The BJP, too, will be no pushover this time, as the party’s vote share has risen to nearly 16% from 2.8% five years ago. The saffron party is banking on a split in the 30% Muslim votes and a consolidation of Hindus in its favour.
‘’Halim is popular with voters and he is well placed to secure a good chunk of Muslim votes. The ruling party, despite its minority appeasement policy, will not be able to open a lead in areas inhabited by Muslims,” said a BJP leader in South 24-Parganas district.
BJP has fielded Nilanjan Roy in the area inhabited by fishermen, honey gatherers and daily wage earners. What has put the BJP in a spot, however, is a complaint against Roy under the POCSO Act for allegedly molesting a minor girl during campaigning in April.
The West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights has asked the chief electoral officer to take action in the matter, even as BJP leaders have labelled it as a Trinamool conspiracy.
The Diamond Harbour area was ravaged by Cyclone Aila in 2009. The cyclonic storm left an extensive trail of destruction in the Sunderbans area.
The incursion of water from the sea also rendered vast swathes of land in the area saline, forcing thousands of farmers to migrate to other parts of the state and the country for livelihood.
CPM candidate Halim ensured access to the remote pockets of the area through a social welfare organisation and built a poor-friendly image by providing treatment free of cost to those sick and ailing in the aftermath of the storm. The ruling party’s supporters are aware of Halim’s popular image and they are alleged to have mounted four attacks on him during his campaign. But Halim remains undeterred.
Popular CPM leaders in the area have thrown their weight behind Halim, who has been active in Bengal politics for long. However, his maiden essay in electoral politics ended in defeat in the 2011 Assembly elections when he lost to Trinamool’s Subrata Mukherjee in Ballygunge constituency by over 41,000 votes.
Halim’s electoral debut came at a time when the CPM was losing its grip on Bengal. His father Hashim Abdul Halim was the Speaker of the West Bengal Assembly for an unbroken 29 years, till 2011. His grandfather was a councillor in the Kolkata Municipal Corporation under Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Despite this lineage, Halim is in a tough battle with the chief minister’s nephew.
“I am not bothered by my rival. I am here to represent the poor. People know me here and I am confident of a win,” Halim said.
Trinamool leaders, however, said they would make all effort to secure Banerjee’s victory. “He (Banerjee) is being portrayed as the second-in-command in the party by the chief minister herself. We’ll not just strive for his victory but also ensure that he wins by a bigger margin than 2014,” a Trinamool leader said.
CM Mamata Banerjee took out a padayatra with Abhishek on Tuesday, hours after BJP chief Amit Shah hit out at the ‘aunt-nephew’ combine at Canning in the Diamond Harbour constituency, saying, “Earlier, it was syndicate tax, now it is nephew tax… We have to oust this corrupt bua-bhatija (aunt-nephew) government.”
Abhishek contested the seat in 2014 after sitting Trinamool MP Somen Mitra defected to Congress.