Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday touched upon all the issues — development, employment, agriculture, and corruption — at his first rally in Basirhat Dakshin, its lone party MLA in the state Assembly Samik Bhattacharya added another reason for the party’s ascendancy – preventing Basirhat from “becoming Afghanistan by stopping cattle smuggling”.
“Cattle smuggling was a big issue here. But now, at least in my area, it has stopped completely. I have stopped this place from becoming like Afghanistan and people will vote me into power for this,” Bhattacharya told The Indian Express after the rally.
Basirhat Dakshin goes to polls in the fourth phase of the Assembly elections and Bhattacharya will be facing Trinamool Congress candidate and footballer Dipendu Biswas.
Basirhat Dakshin is located around 65 km away from Kolkata along the India-Bangladesh border.
For decades, Basirhat had voted loyally for the Left Front until recently, when in 2011 Basirhat Uttar elected a Trinamool candidate while Basirhat Dakshin, which houses the town centre, stuck with the Left. In 2014, Bhattacharya won the Basirhat Dakshin segment in the state bypolls, becoming the first BJP leader to enter the state Assembly in 15 years.
According to the BJP, Basirhat was synonymous with cattle smuggling, particularly in the monsoon, when the Icchamati river would swell with water, making detection by armed forces impossible.
Before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh had already hinted at the need for sealing of the Indo-Bangladesh border. Since the Modi government took over, officers of the Border Security Force allowed discretionary powers to its personnel to shoot at cattle smugglers, a strategy that has reportedly contributed to a drop in cattle smuggling in the area by more than 70 per cent.
In December 2015, in a written reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha, Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju had said, “During the current calendar year, 21 cross-border criminals were killed by the BSF along the Bangladesh border, of whom 16 were allegedly cattle smugglers.”
A dedicated team of BJP activists in Basirhat have ensured that all the measures undertaken by the central government to stop cattle smuggling in the area are communicated to the locals.
Party sources said Bhattacharya’s own involvement in the anti-cattle smuggling drive may work as a key factor in his victory.
“The Muslim population in Basirhat is only about 25-30 per cent. It is not as high as neighbouring districts but was enough to be the key factor in previous elections. However, the 2014 bypoll win coincided with the Modi wave in the state and the people here wanted to vote for the BJP. Hence, Bhattacharya was able to unite the Hindu voters,” the sources added.
BJP national secretary Sidharth Nath Singh also praised Bhattarcharya for his work in Basirhat. “When I came here earlier, people told me that it was impossible to go out in the afternoons and evenings because of cattle smugglers. The situation has changed now because of Samik Bhattacharya and our party,” he said.