KOLKATA: In the by-election held in 2017 for an Assembly segment of the Kanthi Lok Sabha constituency in West Bengal, the Trinamool registered a win. Yet, the signs were worrying for the party. The BJP had notched up impressive gains, bagging thrice the number of votes it got in 2015 Assembly polls —clearly establishing itself as the main challenger to the Trinamool, relegating the Left and the Congress.
The Saffron party has made whopping inroads in the coastal belt of East Midnapore district in the last five years and has gained ground in all seven Assembly segments. The dominance of the Adhikari family with Sisir, the sitting MP from Kanthi, eyeing a third term and his sons Suvendu, a minister in Mamata Banerjee cabinet, and Dibyendu, MP from adjoining Tamluk Lok Sabha constituency, has been eroded significantly with the BJP’s emergence.
Tamluk has backed the Adhikari family since 2009. Suvendu is credited for galvanizing the people of Nandigram and spearheading a mass movement after rumours of land acquisition for a chemical hub spread during the Left regime. Trinamool ousted the Left from East Midnapore riding the Nandigram movement.
The BJP started gaining ground after the change of guard in the state in 2011. The party increased its votes to 1.11 lakh in 2014 Lok Sabha elections from 37,000 in 2009. “Trinamool had never been a strong political force in Kanthi... It gained people’s support after the mass movement. But people have now realised the Adhikari family led the movement on the basis of rumour,” said Samanta.
Other than the voters who are unhappy with the family’s absolute dominance, Samanta is banking on young voters. “There are around 1.3 lakh first-time voters,” he said. Dismissing Samanta’s claims, Sisir Adhikari said, “In my area, people from all communities live happily. BJP’s game-plan will not work here,” he said.
In Tamluk, too, a similar situation is playing out. From 20,000 votes in 2009 to 1.96 lakh in the 2016 Lok Sabha by-election, the BJP has gained considerable strength. The poll battle has taken an exciting turn after three-time former CPI-M MP Lakshman Seth joined the Congress. But the BJP candidate dismisses Seth’s presence saying he has “lost credibility”.