BARRACKPORE: Battling his erstwhile "election-manager" and now BJP's 'Bahubali' candidate Arjun Singh, former Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi of West Bengal's ruling Trinamool Congress faces an uphill task in the state's Barrackpore as he seeks a hat-trick of wins from the Lok Sabha constituency.
Leading an aggressive, no-holds-barred election campaign against the Trinamool, Arjun Singh has emerged as a "big factor", particularly among non-Bengali voters, whoconstitute over 35-40 per cent of the electorate in the constituency.
However, the veteran Trivedi dismisses the former Trinamool MLA from Bhatpara, who switched to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in March, as a "non-factor".
"People will ensure victory of the pen over pistols. No one will vote for a mafia don who was slapped with almost all sections of Indian Penal Code. Elections are for development and people will vote us for the development works undertaken by Trinamool government and its local team," said Trivedi.
He said he was elected in 2009 as people voted against "extortion and mafia raj" of the then Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) MP Tarit Baran Topdar and retained the seat in 2014 as a prize for ushering in development.
The constituency was a CPI-M bastion over decades until Trivedi snatched the seat in 2009, defeating Topdar, a six-time MP, by over 56,000 votes.
Trivedi, who had resigned as Railway Minister in 2012 after a rift emerged within the party over his proposed passenger fare hike, managed to retain the seat in 2014, defeating the CPI-M's Subhashini Ali by a margin of over two lakh votes. The BJP's nominee, retired IPS officer Rumesh Kumar Handa, stood third.
Singh, however, seemed confident about pulling off a win.
"I am 200 per cent sure of winning this election because Trinamool has fielded Trivedi from my constituency. He is not popular here. People hardly know him. When I was in Trinamool, I ensured his victory. I think he will come third this time. CPI-M will be second," said Singh, who was a key Trinamool functionary in-charge of Trivedi's election from the seat in 2014.
Political analyst Bimal Shankar Nanda felt Singh's role in Trivedi's victory last time was "immense" as he has "a mass-base and strong organisational strength".
"When the Trinamool fared badly in the 2006 Assembly elections in the state, Arjun Singh had won the by-election from Bhatpara. Arjun is, of course, a factor this time, as he was a key person for Trinamool in the constituency for 2014 Lok Sabha elections," he told IANS.
According to another political analyst Udayan Bandyopadhyay, Singh is a "favourite" among a large chunk of non-Bengali electorate, mostly jute mill workers and other industries' labourers, who believe in the concept of "powerful candidate".
In reality, "muscle power" in the industrial belt of the constituency is a key factor.
"Hypothetically, a large portion of Bengali voters, who do not like the muscle power of Singh will vote against him, but in that case, their votes are likely to be divided into two - one part will vote for the Trinamool and the other will support the CPI-M. So eventually, the BJP could gain," he told IANS.
However, both analysts believe about 17 per cent Muslim votes in the constituency will mostly consolidate in favour of Trinamool, which is a "common feature" in the ongoing elections, barring a few seats in Murshidabad and Malda districts.
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CPI-M candidate Gargi Chatterjee and the Congress' Mohammad Alam are hoping to cash in on the "anti-establishment wave" against Trinamool and the BJP which are in power in the state and at the Centre respectively.
The Barrackpore Lok Sabha Constituency comprises seven Assembly segments -- Amdanga, Bijpur, Naihati, Bhatpara, Jagatdal, Noapara and Barrackpore -- and has over 14.33 lakh voters.
In the 2016 Assembly elections, the Trinamool Congress had bagged six seats while the Congress' Madhusudan Ghose won as Left-Congress alliance candidate in Noapara constituency. But the state's ruling party snatched the seat in the 2018 by-polls held after Ghose's death.
However, the scenario has changed a lot in Barrackpore. Singh defected to the BJP after the Trinamool leadership turned down his plea for being being nominated as the party candidate from Barrackpore.
His Assembly constituency will hold by-poll on May 19.
Doubts are being raised over Trinamool's organisational strength in Bijpur, the pocket borough of BJP leader Mukul Roy, who had also shifted from Trinamool. His son Subhrangsu, the incumbent Trinamool legislator from Bijpur, seems be having a love-hate relationship with the party, but has nevertheless assured Trivedi of giving him a lead from the seat.
The Noapara Assembly constituency could also pose a challenge for Trivedi. There are doubts whether the election machinery of local Trinammol MLA Sunil Singh, who is also Arjun Singh's relative, would act fully in favour of Mamata Banerjee-led party.
However, an aggressive Trinamool Congress has captured the zilla parishad seats (top tier of the three-rung panchayat system in Bengal) in 2018 and also control over all municipalities.
Barrackpore goes to the hustings on May 6 in the fifth phase of the Lok Sabha polls. The vote count is on May 23.