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Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Shantipur Assembly bypoll: Bangladesh violence a poll plank for BJP, TMC banks on organisation

The recent incidents in Bangladesh - attacks on minority population and places of worship - has become the BJP’s poll plank in the run-up to Shantipur Assembly bypoll.

Written by Ravik Bhattacharya | Shantipur |
October 28, 2021 10:22:22 am
Shantipur comes under the Ranaghat Lok Sabha constituency in Nadia district (Express Photo: Ravik Bhattacharya)

Standing in her small, makeshift tea stall on the side of a road in Ghoralia Gangarasta area of Shantipur – where flags of political parties have been put up – 55-year-old Haridasi Sardar mentions how the issue of the recent attacks on minorities in Bangladesh is a talking point in the area.

The recent incidents in Bangladesh – attacks on minority population and places of worship – has become the BJP’s poll plank in the run-up to Shantipur Assembly bypoll. This is a seat which it desperately wants to retain after the Trinamool Congress (TMC) won the state Assembly election and the subsequent bypolls in three seats.

The TMC, meanwhile, upbeat about its chances of wresting the seat from BJP, is banking on its organisation and the popularity of both Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and party general secretary Abhishek Banerjee, apart from social schemes of the state government. TMC leaders have also accused the BJP of making attempts to “polarise voters” and said such tactics would not work.

On October 30, four Assembly seats – Shantipur, Kharadaha, Dinhata and Gosaba – seats will go to the polls.

Shantipur seat is under Ranaghat Lok Sabha constituency, where BJP candidate Jagannath Sarkar won in 2019. Later Sarkar was nominated as a candidate for the Assembly polls and won by a margin of 15,878 votes. However, Sarkar resigned as an MLA and the seat fell vacant.

“Of late, there has been talk about attacks on Hindus in Bangladesh and how Durga Puja pandals and temples were vandalised by miscreants. Everyone is talking about it and a political party is doing a whispering campaign on it. Another party is talking about social schemes and the Lakkhi Bhandar scheme (government scheme in which women of the general caste get Rs 500 and SC St gets Rs 1000 monthly) where we get Rs 500 a month. Usually people do not care about bypolls, but this time it seems to be different,” said Haridasi who claimed that her family settled in Shantipur around 45 years ago.

BJP office at a lodge in Shantipur. (Express Photo: Ravik Bhattacharya)

“My brothers stay in Kushtia in Bangladesh and they call me frequently to say that they are living in fear. They are not stepping out of their homes. I told them to come to India but they said not all of the family members [20] have passports,” added Haridasi, who has been running the tea stall after her husband Madhu Sardar (60) fell ill a few years ago.

When asked about who will win, Haridasi said, “That I cannot say. I have not decided on my vote either. On one hand, I am disturbed by the happenings there (Bangladesh) but not sure how it matters in these bypolls. On the other hand, there is a development agenda of another party. Any one of the flowers [both TMC and BJP have flower as part of their respective party symbols] will win.”

From “whispering campaigns” to speeches in rallies, the recent incidents in Bangladesh have found mention across the Assembly constituency, which has a large section of residents who have come from Bangladesh, with some even having relatives presently there.

Standing near a hoarding of Prime Minister Narendra Modi inside the courtyard of Antarik Lodge which the party rented for election purpose, candidate Niranjan Biswas did not mince words about the issue.

“People of Shantipur blessed BJP in the Lok Sabha elections [in 2019] and then in the Assembly polls earlier this year. The atrocities committed on people in Bangladesh, vandalism on temples and Durga Puja mandaps, a ten year old girl was raped and killed, sanyasis were tortured. BJP has its own stand on this issue against such barbaric acts. Shantipur’s people support our stand on this issue. And it will be reflected in the polls. We will increase our margin,” Biswas told The Indian Express.

Around a kilometre away, sitting in his house, Trinamool Congress candidate Braja Kishore Goswami, however said the BJP’s “attempts in polarisation will not work.”

Political party flags hang on shops in a market in Shantipur. (Express Photo: Ravik Bhattacharya)

“They are trying to polarise the voters. But voters are not fools. What has the incidents in Bangladesh to do here? They [BJP] do not have any other proper issue [to highlight]. We have condemned it [Bangladesh violence]. Peace and communal harmony prevails here and BJP is trying to disturb it,” said Gowami, who claimed to hail from a family which has been in Shantipur for over 500 years.

“As per instructions from Mamata Banerjee and Abhishek Banerjee, I was going door-to-door reaching out to the people. I even went to two remote islands in the constituency and spoke to the people about what they want. It is true that the previous MLAs did not do much work here. There are problems of water-logging and inadequate supply of drinking water. This region is known for handloom sarees but there is a need for proper marketing. These are the issues I will address,” said Goswami.

“BJP cannot match our organisation here. Our party workers reached out to people, put up hoardings and flags even during the Durga Pujas. After the emphatic victory in the assembly polls, many of their (BJP) youth workers joined us. I am confident of winning,” the TMC candidate said.

Nearly half a kilometre away at the Trinamool Congress party office near Shantipur municipal corporation office, adorned with huge hoardings of party leaders. Inside a group of party workers huddled and prepared for a public meeting of Abhishek Banerjee which was to be held on October 26.

“Mamata Banerjee gave so many good schemes to the people. From birth to death, these schemes are helpful. Recently, the Lakshmir Bhandar scheme has been a hit. ‘Duare Sarkar’ (government at your doorstep) initiative was also a hit with the people. We are reaching out to the people and we will definitely win. It will be TMC 4, BJP 0 in the bypolls,” said a TMC worker who did not wish to be named.

The constituency mainly comprises farmers and weavers of traditional ‘Tant’ sarees. The Assembly seat has around 20 percent Muslim population.

“There are problems with marketing. Though some have power looms, not all. We do not get the right price for our sarees. This is a major issue along with civic amenities. But now everyone is talking about Bangladesh and somehow local issues are being subverted. There is a silent campaign over it but I am not sure how far it will work against a party which got a big victory recently in the state,” said Ranjit Das (44), a resident of Belgoria Gram Panchayat area and a weaver.

Also interestingly, in this seat, CPIM and Congress have fielded candidates though both had an alliance in the Assembly polls earlier this year. While CPIM has fielded Niranjan Biswas, Congress has nominated Raju Pal as the candidate for the seat.

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