From where Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was addressing a joint rally with Rahul Gandhi Wednesday, it’s a 6-km drive drive to Jadavpur University, centrepiece of the constituency the former chief minister once represented. Situated on the southeastern fringe of Kolkata, Jadavpur was for years a gram panchayat and a refugee colony. After Independence a huge influx of migrants from East Bengal had settled in Jadavpur and surrounding areas, making up 18 per cent of Kolkata’s then population. Over the years, Jadavpur has come to be known as an educational hub led by JU, along with Indian Association of Cultivation of Science, Indian Institute of Chemical Biology and K P Medical College. South City Mall, one of Kolkata’s largest, stands at one end of the constituency.
A traditional Left bastion owing to an efficient rehabilitation programme for refugees, Jadavpur had continuously elected a CPM MLA since 1967, including Buddhadeb five times since 1987, until a Mamata Banerjee wave in 2011 ended his 24-year run. Former chief secretary Manish Gupta defeated Buddhadeb with a vote share of 53 per cent to 45, and went on to become power minister in the Trinamool government.
The Lok Sabha constituency of Jadavpur too was a Left bastion since 1967 until it fell to the Trinamool Congress in 1984. Former Speaker Somnath Chatterjee and Malini Bhattacharya have been Jadavpur’s CPM MPs, as has current assembly candidate Sujon Chakraborty. Current Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has represented the constituency as a Congress as well as Trinamool Congress MP. Netaji Subhas Bose’s niece Krishna was Trinamool MP three times from 1996, followed by journalist-musician Kabir Suman and now by another Netaji relative, Saugata Bose. In the 2014 election that elected Saugata, the Trinamool widened the vote gap to 46 per cent to the CPM’s 36.
The fact that the Left has represented the assembly constituency longer — 44 years as against 17 years in the Lok Sabha — makes the current contest intense as ever. The Trinamool candidate is once again Manish Gupta, while Buddhadeb has opted out on account of his health and largely stayed away from campaigning — until he chose Jadavpur to make a rare appearance in a roadshow that drew thousands of supporters.
“We lost ground here but so did the TMC — they lost 10 per cent of their vote. Actually across the state, it was the BJP’s vote share that went up,” said Sujon Chakraborty, the CPM candidate. “But since 2014, the BJP too has fallen in popularity. We believe it was the anti-Trinmaool people who had voted for the BJP… We believe these votes are still anti-Trinamool but the BJP is no longer a viable alternative whereas the Congress-Left coalition has become one.”
Manish Gupta, his rival, had worked as chief secretary in the governments headed by S S Ray, Jyoti Basu and Buddhadeb before retiring in 2001. “I wasn’t Buddhadeb’s chief secretary, I was West Bengal’s,” he stressed.
His plank is once again development. “There were no civic services before we came. There was no water and there were long, frequent power cuts. All that you see now, we have brought,” he said.
Chakraborty countered: “Though Mamata uses development as her platform, the fact is that she did not start a single project, infrastructure or otherwise, during her time. All the roads, flyovers, bridges, Kolkata Metro II — were conceptualised during the Left regime. She is simply taking credit for the work we had done.”
One thing made their public meetings stand out from each other: the Left-Congress meeting drew a much larger crowd than Gupta’s did. “But crowds are never an indicator of what can happen in an election,” said Ashutosh Sinha, who owns a shop in one of Jadavpur’s residential colonies. “In Jadavpur you can expect one thing in an election, and the result can be just the opposite.”