Updated: April 20, 2021 12:39:34 pm
Laitafun Bibi, 47, seems almost oblivious of the raging coronavirus pandemic. Downplaying the fear of being infected with the virus, she says, “We are not scared of the infection because it has not spread in this part of the country.” The mother of 5, who didn’t bother to wear a mask, says her family is a staunch Trinamool supporter and they want Mamata Banerjee to return to power.
Just a few blocks away from the women’s enclosure, Sher Mohammed, who says he is 80, echoes Bibi. Almost mockingly, he says the virus can’t infect him. “I have never used a mask. Though I have got tested for the virus recently, I am not worried about the virus.”
The scene was jubilant inside the tent, that provided some relief from the scorching temperature to a sizeable crowd that had gathered to listen to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee at Sirshi Madarsha school ground in Chakulia Vidhan Sabha, a seat held by the Forward Block for decades.
Minhajul Afrin, the Trinamool Congress candidate from Chakulia told indianexpress.com that his party had asked everyone to wear a mask and that they are also providing masks to those who don’t have it. Right at the entry of the school ground, TMC workers were seen distributing masks.
Just a few kilometres away from Sirshi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah addressed a rally at Shakuntala school ground. There also, the crowd didn’t adhere to social distancing norms. Seema Das, 26, felt embarrassed when told about the need to wear a mask in such a huge gathering.
Though the country is grappling with the second wave of the Covid-19 infection, election campaigning for the remaining three phases in West Bengal is underway, unfazed by the impact of the infection.
Amid a loud cheer from the crowd, wheelchair-bound Mamata entered the stage. Perhaps mindful of the politics over the pandemic, the Chief Minister extolled the crowd to wear a mask. “Please ensure that you wear a mask when you go home. When you go to vote, don’t forget to wear your mask. We are compelled to continue with electioneering amid the coronavirus pandemic. I will not campaign in congested areas,” she tells the crowd.
At Shakuntala, there was no mention of the coronavirus pandemic by Amit Shah. Instead, he threw a question to the crowd straight up: “Don’t you want to overthrow the Mamata government?” The crowd cheered with a big yes.
About maintaining social distance and wearing masks at election rallies, Ujjwal Biswas at Shah’s rally says, “what can be done now as only a few days are left before voting.” “Anyway, people will have to sit at home now.”
The Chakulia Vidhan Sabha has been a bastion of the Forward Block. Sitting MLA Ali Imran Ramz has represented the seat three times. Before him, his uncle Hafeez Alam Sairani was elected, and before Sairani, his brother and Ramz’s father – Ramzan Ali – represented the seat from 1977 until his death in 1994. In the last assembly elections, the BJP had managed to secure second position. Sensing an opportunity, the saffron party has fielded prominent leaders like Syed Shahnawaz to campaign in the constituency.
Hoping to make a connect with their respective voters, both Mamata and Amit Shah raise the issue of NRC, CAA and citizenship to refugees. Aware of the fact that Chakulia is a Muslim majority constituency, Mamata asks the crowd to vote her back to power so that “CAA and NRC could not be implemented in the state” to emphatic response from the crowd. After the rally, Abdul Hamid says that Mamata is a “feisty woman who will deliver on this promise”.
At his rally, Shah counters that Didi can’t stop infiltration. “Only BJP can stop this. The time has to teach a lesson to communists, Congress and the TMC who promoted infiltration from across the border. The Rajbongshi community used to have Narayani Sena which didn’t let the Mughlas enter north Bengal for 30 years. We will create a Narayani Sena Battalion,” Shah promises. Rajbongshis have a substantial vote share in Chakulia.
Biswas says they want a change in the state. “Whatever Amit Shah told us, we are convinced.”
Shah adds that the BJP, if elected, will set up a central university in the state. In his trademark style, he asks the partymen to press the BJP button so hard that “Mamata didi can feel the electric shock in Kolkata.”
Towards the end of her 13-minute speech, Mamata appeals to the Election Commission to hold the remaining three phases of voting in one or two days keeping in view the covid pandemic. “Don’t listen to the BJP only. Don’t play with the lives of the people,” is Mamata’s fervent plea to the poll panel.
Just to make a point that her party is inclusive, Mamata recites the Kalima and hymns of Hindus and Christians. A loud cheer follows, with Mamata pleading again to vote her back.
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