Even as the TMC and BJP dominate the election narrative in West Bengal, the CPM — once a formidable force in the state — is working at the grassroots to put up a tough fight in two of the nine Lok Sabha seats that vote in the last phase.
As campaigning in the state ended a day before schedule following an Election Commission order, the Left seemed hopeful of wresting both Jadavpur and Diamond Harbour seats. In Jadavpur, it is a three-cornered contest as the Congress has not fielded a candidate. In Diamond Harbour, however, the competition is relatively tough as Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee is seeking re-election from there.
“If elections are held in a free and fair manner, then we will win both the seats. We have received reports from these two constituencies and we got a positive response from the people,” said CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury.
While both TMC and BJP organised massive public meetings, road shows and rallies, the CPM conducted door-to-door campaigning and street corner meetings to re-establish a connect with the people.
This constituency has been a Left bastion since 1967. CPM candidates won 12 Lok Sabha polls here including a bypoll until 2009, when TMC candidate Somen Mitra (now state Congress president) put end to the Left domination. In 2014, Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee won the seat after defeating his nearest rival and CPM candidate Dr Abul Hasnat by over 70,000 votes.
In a bid to put up a strong fight, the CPM has fielded Dr Fuad Halim, son of the state’s longest serving Legislative Assembly Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim (1982 to 2011).
Fuad was the CPM candidate for Ballygunge constituency in the 2011 Assembly elections, but lost to TMC’s Subrata Mukherjee by 41,000 votes. This time, he feels the wind has changed. “There are reasons why we will do well this time. There have been numerous attacks on me during campaigning. People have come out of their houses to take part in our rallies. The support from the grassroots is immense,” said Halim. There were three instances of attacks on him allegedly by TMC goons.
Recently, the EC removed the Diamond Harbour SDPO over allegations of partiality towards the ruling party.
The BJP, meanwhile, depended on its star campaigner and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who targeted Abhishek over several issues. Unfazed, Abhishek said, “The people’s mandate is clear. They are with the TMC. On May 23 the result will be very clear.” Jadavpur
In Javadpur, the CPM has fielded lawyer and former Kolkata mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya against a Trinamool greenhorn, actress-turned-politician Mimi Chakraborty, and BJP’s Anupam Hazra, an expelled TMC MP.
Bhattacharya is the most experienced of the three. He was instrumental in fighting the legal battle of Jami Jibika Bastutantra O Poribesh Raksha Committee, which had spearheaded the anti-land acquisition movement against the Mamata Banerjee government in Bhangar under Jadavpur constituency. The Committee has extended support to Bhattacharya.
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However, Jadavpur constituency is one of the most unpredictable seats in West Bengal. It is this seat that kickstarted Banerjee’s political career after she defeated sitting MP and former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee in 1984.
Later, Krishna Bose, wife of freedom fighter Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s nephew Sisir Bose, CPM leader Sujan Chakraborty and Harvard professor and Krishna Bose’s son Sugata Bose also won Lok Sabha polls from here.
Former CPM chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has been a five-time MLA from Jadavpur Assembly constituency, one of the seven Assembly seats under Jadavpur Lok Sabha constituency.
In 2014, Sugata Bose defeated sitting MP Sujan Chakraborty by a margin of over 1,20,000 votes. Sources in the TMC said that by giving Mimi Chakraborty a Lok Sabha ticket this time, Banerjee had tried to quell the infighting in Baruipur and Bhangar areas of the constituency.
In December last year, three people, including a driver and an associate of TMC MLA Biswanath Das, were gunned down after unidentified persons opened fire at his vehicle in Baruipur. In Bhangar area, factions of TMC leaders Arabul Islam, Kaiser Ahmed and Rezzak Mollah have been at loggerheads.
“People are fed up with TMC and BJP. Both tried to polarise voters. We have tried to address burning issues like unemployment, corruption and agrarian crisis. Our workers have reached out to the people and received a positive response,” Bhattacharya said.
Relatively weak here, the BJP has focused on bringing star campaigners to woo voters. WWE wrestler The Great Khali had campaigned for Hazra, prompting the TMC to complain to the EC over bringing in a US citizen for canvassing.
The TMC, meanwhile, is banking on a Tollywood star. “People want development and Banerjee is the only person who can usher in development here,” said Chakraborty.