In 2011, even when Trinamool Congress (TMC) first came to power in the state after 34 years of Left rule, it could not breach the municipal elections in Raiganj area of North Dinajpur held that year. The Congress won 22 out of 25 wards up for grabs then. This time, after an even better performance in the 2016 state polls, the TMC hopes to make inroads into this 300-year-old historic town, forcing the Opposition to come to a seat-sharing agreement here.
Despite pockets belonging to the Left (Raiganj is the constituency of Politburo member and CPM Member of Parliament Mohammad Salim), the municipality has been run by the Congress for decades. The competition between the two parties has been stiff. In the last parliamentary elections, Salim defeated the Congress candidate by 1,500 votes.
But TMC has gained much since then. As many as five Congress candidates, all councillors, switched over to TMC just ahead of filing of nominations. The last-minute switch has left the party stranded.
“We have been under attack from the TMC. Our district president and sitting MLA from Raiganj, Mohit Sengupta, especially. As soon as the elections were announced, a false FIR was lodged against Sengupta. He resisted, and despite tremendous pressure, decided not to join the TMC,” said state Congress general secretary O P Mishra.
However, Sengupta’s aide councillor Sandeep Biswas joined the Trinamool, along with four others and their local supporters. “This is probably the first time in the country that declared candidates have switched to another party,” said a local Congress worker.
“It was a last-minute scramble for us to replace so many candidates. But we have done alright,” adds Mishra.
“They (the TMC) were not letting us file our nominations. It was only when their leaders went to Kolkata for a meeting called by minister Subhendu Adhikari that we took advantage of their absence and quickly filed our nominations. But the betrayal of our sitting candidates does put us in a very weak position. Yes, the TMC is now a real contender,” said a Congress worker.
The Opposition claims it has to not only compete against an up-and-coming TMC, but also expects the election to not be a free and fair one.
The Congress will be contesting 18 seats in Raiganj, while the Left will vie for nine (two wards have been added taking the municipality up to 27 seats).
“Let’s see if there is even an election held at Raiganj. We can’t say yet. If there is a fair election, I believe we’ll do well. But the opposition workers have been attacked. We are not able to campaign. If our workers campaign, TMC goons video record the campaign and later turn up at their homes in the middle of the night and threaten them and beat them up,” alleges Mohammad Salim, MP. “The TMC didn’t even want us to file nominations. They had told our workers as much. So when we did manage to file, this actually angered them. How can you fight or even hold an actual election in such an atmosphere?”
“The Raiganj municipal elections were supposed to be held last year. But Mamata Banerjee refused to hold the elections. There has been no municipal council for the past six months. The TMC leadership felt it helped the party if an administrator ran the municipality, and that is what has been happening,” said a Congress insider.