It’s a battle for Bengal in Bhawanipur — Mamata Banerjee’s home turf

Signed by Mamata, the letter urges Bhawanipur’s voters to press the button for her TMC and “pave the way for better growth and greater development in West Bengal over the next five years”.

Written by Aniruddha Ghosal | Kolkata | Updated: November 2, 2017 11:24:25 am
west bengal assembly elections 2016, Mamata Banerjee, trinamool congress, TMC, Bhawanipur, BJP, amit shah, 2014 General Election, Tathagatha Roy, india news Residents of Bhawanipur say they have never seen a high-voltage campaign like this year’s. Partha Paul

Residents of Bhawanipur in south Kolkata woke up to a unique message on Thursday. It was a letter, signed by Mamata Banerjee, the West Bengal Chief Minister and their candidate. Signed by Mamata, the letter urges Bhawanipur’s voters to press the button for her Trinamool Congress (TMC) and “pave the way for better growth and greater development in West Bengal over the next five years”.

While some residents said the letter arrived by mail, several others said it had been slipped in along with the morning newspapers. No one, however, was really surprised at this unusual gesture. After all, in these elections spread over a month across 294 constituencies, this is what it eventually boils down to — the battle for Bhawanipur.
As BJP president Amit Shah put it when he had come here for campaigning on Thursday, the last day of campaigning before the fifth phase of polling in the state, “In order to defeat Trinamool Congress, you don’t need to get a majority. You need to win one seat: Bhawanipur.”

TMC, explained BJP and Left leaders, was less a party and more a cult — centred around Mamata Banerjee. And defeating her is all that matters to bring the party down. Little wonder that most people in the constituency say they have never seen a high-tempo fight like this year’s for this seat.

There are 2,02,655 voters in the constituency, and all of them will count on Saturday. In 2011, Mamata Banerjee won the bypoll from Bhawanipur seat with a margin of more than 50,000 votes. But that was another time — the time of Mamata’s Paribartan wave. In 2014 General Election, the BJP candidate from Kolkata South Lok Sabha seat, Tathagatha Roy, managed a slender lead of 185 seats in Bhawanipore Assembly segment. But that, too, was another time — the high tide during the Modi wave.

To take on ‘Didi’, the Congress has this time fielded Deepa Dasmunsi, wife of veteran Congress leader Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi and also called ‘Boudi’ (sister-in-law). Having wound up her breathless, uber-visible, door-to-door campaign, Dasmunsi said, “Mamata Banerjee is worried. She didn’t take us seriously. Now she knows it’s different.”

In comparison, BJP candidate Chandra Kumar Bose, a grandnephew of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, initially ran a lacklustre campaign. BJP leaders said he was unable to find even an office space for himself, blaming it on highhandedness of “local Trinamool” leaders. But the party tried to make up with a last-minute surge — on the last day of campaigning, it put its entire weight behind Bose. Party president Amit Shah and actor Paresh Rawal led the campaign on Wednesday, with BJP national secretary Sidharth Nath Singh and actors-turned-politicians Roopa Ganguly and Locket Chatterjee joining in.

While the BJP hopes it has done enough to get the votes of the expanding pockets of Gujaratis and Sikhs in the area — traditionally BJP voters — Bose’s strategy has been simpler. His campaign posters have been designed in a manner to underscore his facial resemblance with Netaji, and he has introduced himself as the ‘Netaji scion’.

But despite the bravado both Dasmunsi and Bose have admitted at different points in their campaign that fighting Mamata in Bhawanipur is a formidable task. A resident of Kalighat, the Trinamool supremo has worked extensively with the area’s many clubs — these are social organisations in different localities that exert considerable influence in pockets, and Mamata’s campaign drew on that. Her first padyatra (march) in the constituency ended near Hazra crossing, the place where a near-fatal attack on her in August 1990 forged Mamata’s political identity.

Then with the Congress, Mamata was leading a rally that day. Standing at the spot 26 years on, she said, “I have worked tirelessly for the people here. All the clubs here know how I work, and so do the people. I am a resident of this area. This is my home. I have come to ask for your blessings.”

And that is the challenge for the Congress-Left alliance and the BJP — beating Mamata Banerjee at her “home”, a constituency from where she rose, and now a seat that encapsulates the battle for Bengal.

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