Basirhat Lok Sabha constituency, on the India-Bangladesh border and repeatedly hit by communal flare-ups, presents an interesting battle. It is one of the few seats where the ruling Trinamool Congress in West Bengal has changed its sitting candidate and the Left Front, which had won the seat four times until 2009, has brought in a new face.
Of the major candidates, three are from the minority community. Trinamool has fielded TMC minority cell president Idrish Ali and the Left Front — which held the constituency for four consecutive terms prior to 2009 — has a new face, Nurul Huda of CPI. Siddiqullah Choudhury, the West Bengal president of AIUDF, is a strong contender.
The BJP has put up a Hindu candidate lending the poll scene in Basirhat communal overtones.
Basirhat has a 54 per cent minority population, which has made the BJP candidate quip that he is actually a “minority” candidate.
The constituency is seen as important for Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, as well as other political parties. Their performance in Basirhat is expected to dictate the trend of minority votes. The constituency had witnessed one of worst riots in Bengal, “Deganga Riots” in 2010.
BJP did not field a candidate from the minority community. The Congress had almost finalised former Indian cricket captain captain Mohammad Azharuddin for the seat but he backed out. Congress is yet to name its candidate in Basirhat.
Basirhat Lok Sabha constituency covers Baduria, Haroa, Minakhan, Sandeshkhali, Basirhat Dakshin, Basirhat Uttar and Hingalganj assembly segments. Riot-hit Kartikpur village in Deganga is in Haroa assembly constituency. This area is considered important for the polls after the 2010 riots. More than 500 houses were damaged in the village and a dozen police vehicles were set on fire after clashes erupted between two groups. Army had to be called in.
Trinamool Congress sources claimed Didi did not field Nurul Islam this time because he was portrayed as the “ mastermind” of the riots. Islam will will contest from Jangipur this time, however, said, “Jangipur too is a good place. Didi shifted me from Basirhat as she thought it to be right.”
Ali said, “I have always been considered a secular face. CPM tried to polarize the road here and won four terms before 2009. Our party is against polarization of people on the lines of religion. While most parties including CPM fielded a minority candidate, only BJP has not fielded a minority candidate. The BJP wants to polarise Hindu votes. CPM had Ajoy Chakraborty but fielded Nurul Huda,” said Ali, who is also a lawyer.
BJP candidate Shamik Bhattacharya, citing the population break-up, claimed to be a “minority” candidate. “At least 54 per cent in Basirhat is minority population. So I am actually a minority candidate. Jokes apart, our party does not believe in minority and majority. The stigma of being anti-Muslim has been labelled against the BJP by other political parties. But it is time to remove the stigma. I would tell my voters how long they will remain a vote bank. Our main fight is against infiltration. Three assembly constituencies in Basirhat were affected by cyclone Aila. These constituencies are part of the Sunderbans,” said Bhattacharya. BJP had around 67,000 voteshare in 2009 while TMC and CPM got more than 4 lakh votes.
AIDUF candidate Siddiqullah Choudhury feels people of Basirhat have been victims of polarisation politics. Choudhury, who got 42,000 votes in 2009 and was placed fourth, said, “People realised TMC and CPM are playing votebank politics and exploiting minorities. The constituency had been neglected for years. This time they will vote for a leader who will work for them. Apart from me, all candidates are outsiders. People do not know their names. But I visit this area more than 100 times a year.”
CPM rebel Abdur Rezzak Mollah is likely to be present with Siddiqullah Choudhury at a rally in Basirhat on March 19.