NARAYANGARH: A board over a tin-roofed room announces “Govt-certified” English-speaking courses. I see a bunch of bored-looking teenagers inside. Rabishankar, who runs a roadside pharmacy “for humans and animals”, sends his daughter there. With bigger aspirations, he is not happy with the sitting MLA Surjya Kanta Mishra, whose biggest achievement seems to have been giving pattas to landless poor in the eighties and nineties. “There are no good hospitals nearby,” explains Rabishankar, serving a customer and suggesting medicine for a chest infection. “Other than Belda (14 km away), we can only go to Medinipur hospital which is 25 km away.” According to him, Mishra has a tough fight ahead.
CPM’s state secretary Mishra is no lightweight: he has been winning from Narayangarh for over two decades, even surviving the 2011 TMC sweep. Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee is sparing no effort to bring him — the ‘face of CPM’ and unofficial CM candidate of the Left-Congress alliance — down.
It is usually an easy win for Mishra, but this time voters want more. The TMC, which won in 15 of 16 panchayats in 2013, has woken them out of a stupor. “They have built better roads and there are drains till the bazaar (a town centre)... earlier it was impossible to walk during the rains,” says Rabishankar. “He (Mishra) has important positions but he has done little for us.” Currently the Leader of Opposition in Assembly, Mishra has been Minister of Health, Land and Land Reforms, and Panchayat and Rural Development over the years. TMC is fielding little-known advocate Pratyush Ghosh against him. BJP has Krishna Prasad Roy and SUCI (C) has Surya Pradhan, but the contest will be between Ghosh and Mishra. Ghosh is not likely to win, but may make a severe dent in Mishra’s votebank. “People will vote for ghas phul (the TMC symbol),” says an elderly gent, shopping with his granddaughter. TMC has also won people over with their schemes such as providing bicycles for girls. But a local CPM leader says all is not rosy: “An outsider (Pratyush Ghosh) has been given a ticket and local leader Suvendhu Adhikari was sidelined. There is infighting.” A TMC party worker laughs off the rumour.
Manohar, at his friend’s shoe shop says Mishra is rarely seen in the constituency, a common grouse here. “Out of 365 days, he is away for 370 days,” he says, poker-faced. The CPM office is a 47-year-old building with water leaking into the walls. I sit waiting for Mishra. “He won’t be coming in today,” says a party worker. Many like me are waiting.