April 8, 2021 4:54:01 am
The two words are everywhere. “Amphan durniti (Amphan mishandling)”. In May 2020, as cyclone Amphan rocked Bengal, South 24 Paraganas district was the worst hit. Nine months later, the cyclone isn’t talked about much, but the ‘durniti’ in its wake.
“The rich got all the compensation meant for the poor,” says a villager in Krishnachandrapur.
The question then, in South 24, is if this anger can dent the dominance of the Trinamool in a region where it is as dominant as it gets.
Of Bengal’s 294 constituencies, South 24 Paraganas district alone has 31 seats. In the 2016 Vidhan Sabha elections, the TMC won 29 of those. In the 2019 general elections, even as the BJP won18 seats, the Trinamool swept South 24 again, winning from 30 of the 31 Assembly segments. Of the 31 seats, elections to four were held in the second phase (April 1), 16 head into elections tomorrow (April 6), and the rest will be in Phase 4 on April 10.
Sitting outside Krishnachandrapur High School in Lalua gram panchayat, Tapan Paul is clear that his vote will be for the BJP. “I have seen many storms, but Amphan was something else. When the time came to help, Trinamool workers ate all money. You know who helped? The headmaster of this school, Chandan Maity. The BJP has grown in the area… In any case, should we not try a Hindu party,” says the 31-year-old.
Krishnachandrapur is part of Raidighi Assembly seat, which in 2019 presented the TMC a lead of around 12,919 votes over the BJP, one of the lowest in the region.
In a Muslim settlement outside Krishnachandrapur, Abdullah Mollah house has a tarpaulin roof, and a rag makes up for the door.
On his phone, are photographs of those who got relief. As he scrolls through, he says, “He has a two storeyed house… works in a company; he has two cars… works for the TMC. Why should I vote for the TMC? We got no relief. Kanti Ganguly of the CPI(M) has stood with us. We will all vote for him. In other parts, like in Bhangor, people are voting for the ISF (Indian Secular Front led by influential cleric Abbas Siddiqui). If we have an option that is not the BJP, we should use it,” Mollah said.
A BJP leader in Raidighi says that while the conditions are there for an “unprecedented result”, there are “two problems”. “The first is that our seat selection is terrible. The same people who took cut money are the ones who have been given tickets. The other is Abhishek Banerjee,” he says.
The BJP has built its campaign around “Bhaipo (nephew)”, accusing the Diamond Harbour MP, of amassing wealth. But here in South 24 Paraganas, Banerjee’s influence has only grown.
In a shop next to the Diamond Harbour jetty, Sukanto Das says, “Here, the Trinamool cannot lose. He may be corrupt, but as long as he does work, it is difficult for the Trinamool to lose here.”
But apart from the seat itself, Banerjee has taken charge of the party’s functioning in the district. Even in 2019, for instance, the parliamentary seats of Mathurapur, Jayanagar and Diamond Harbour had big victory margins.
Rallies of some BJP leaders like Yogi Adityanath have seen lukewarm responses in places like Diamond Harbour.
A Trinamool organiser said, “There are some allegations of problems with Amphan, but we have worked to resolve them. This district is key if the Trinamool has to win, so we have only solidified.”
Privately, those in the BJP admit the party does not have the organisational strength in the district yet. “If our candidate selection had been better, we could have even won 15 seats. Now, we can do that only if there is a silent wave, and we can put people at the booths. Without that, it is difficult to cover up these margins, given that there is a large Muslim population that will not shift to us. But if the Trinamool Congress gets less than 24 seats, and we take seven, the job’s done,” a BJP local leader said.
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