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Monday, April 12, 2021

Polling day in TMC stronghold: ‘On days like today, it’s all about who has stronger men’

The South 24 Parganas district, bordering Kolkata, is a TMC bastion, with the party sweeping the area in the 2016 Assembly elections, and holding on to Assembly segments and seats even as the BJP rose in 2019.

Written by Dipankar Ghose | Canning |
Updated: April 7, 2021 3:04:17 pm
Undoubtedly though, at least in Canning, there were signs of the TMC’s influence at play.

In the BJP’s office at Canning town in South 24 Parganas, it is close to noon, and two men behind a desk, with pictures of Prime Minister Narendra Modi everywhere, are working the phones constantly.

Sunil Kumar Nayak dials the police observer and looks at the scribbled notes in front of him. “Sir, the TMC fellows are stopping our voters near the Kalibari area. Please go there,” he says. There is a pause as he listens to the response. “But what can I do, Sir? I keep calling because I keep getting information. Please look into it,” he says.

The South 24 Parganas district, bordering Kolkata, is a TMC bastion, with the party sweeping the area in the 2016 Assembly elections, and holding on to Assembly segments and seats even as the BJP rose in 2019. On polling day, it is also clear why.

Over the years, the TMC has built a formidable organisation on the ground, that comes into effect not only during the campaign, but particularly in the run-up, and during polling day. The BJP is now competing not only to influence voters through its campaign, but also create a parallel organisation that can compare. As Nayak says: “For days we talk of corruption, durniti… On days like today, it is all about who has the stronger men.”

A little after the last phone call to the police observer, three men walk into the BJP’s office. “We tried to go into Narayanpur block, but we are only three, and they were at least 30 men,” says one. “They had 50. What could we have done? They saw us from a distance and we came back,” says another.

Asked why they had gone, given that they were not voters of the area, one man says, “Why don’t you ask them? They were overseeing the election. Why can’t we?”

Throughout polling day, while there were allegations of violence – TMC candidate Saokat Mollah accused the ISF of planting crude bombs at Burhangarh; the ISF and BJP accused him of trying to influence voters – there were few signs of outright violence. Yet, there were other signs of how “syndicates” run on election day.

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Across booths in Canning East and West, there was the usual presence of booth workers. Yet, there were also men, standing apart in two groups, representing parties, at the entrances and exits of internal lanes. As voters passed, each told the voters to vote a certain way.

Undoubtedly though, at least in Canning, there were signs of the TMC’s influence at play. In bylane after bylane, there were only TMC flags, with the others limited to some pockets. Nayak admits that BJP agents were missing in 30-40 of the total 260 booths. Still, he believes the BJP can win.

“There are silent voters who are angry at their dominance and corruption. We can win, even though they are strong,” he says.

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