Among the 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal, one of the most keenly watched contests will be Bankura, where the Trinamool Congress has fielded veteran leader and state minister Subrata Mukherjee. As a Congress candidate in 2009, the former Kolkata mayor came runners-up in the land of the red soil, as Bankura is famously known as given that it was once a CPI(M) fortress.
However, a lot of water has flown under the Kangsabati and Dwarakeswar river since. With the change in regime, the political scenario in Bankura has here has undergone a sea change. Mukherjee has replaced TMC’s actor-turned-politician Moon Moon Sen, who defeated nine-time CPI(M) MP Basudeb Acharya in 2014.
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While the Left has ceased to be a force to reckon with, Mukherjee will be up against a surging BJP, which has already created a formidable base in the Jangalmahal region. In a freewheeling chat with The Indian Express Bangla, Mukherjee shares his thoughts on BJP’s prospects in Bengal and why he is not an outsider in Bankura.
What do you recall of the 2009 Lok Sabha elections in Bankura?
When I contested in 2009 from Bankura, the organisational strength of the Congress was not noteworthy. The votes that I got was due to my image. There was no one beside me, except Kashinath Mishra. But still, I gave a good fight to the CPM when the party was at its prime and came runners-up. While I campaigned by going around the length and breadth of Bankura, Basudeb Acharya was already a “myth” in the area. Maybe if CPM had fielded some other candidate, I could have won.
What do you are your advantages in Bankura this time?
My plus-point is that I have been associated with Bengal’s politics for a long time and have been an MLA for 49 years. None of my rivals has such kind of experience and are seasonal politicians. Naturally, people of the constituency will have an idea who will work for them better.
What do you think of your opponent candidates this time?
CPI(M) candidate Amiya Patra has been away from politics for some time now. In 2016, when Patra contested the Assembly elections from Taldangra, where he resides, he lost to TMC by 14,000 votes. The BJP candidate, Subhas Sarkar, is a greenhorn in politics. He is a doctor by profession.
Do you think you have an advantage just because you are a veteran politician?
I am ahead if one judges me by the work I have done. If any community has not received the fruits of my work, then please do not vote for me. I have worked hard on 13 pilot projects here. Bankura has ranked first among 412 districts in the Open Defecation Free (ODF) contest organised by the Centre. It was part of Mission Nirmal Bangla started by the TMC government.
You last fought elections in Bankura in 2009. But you have continued to work for the constituency. Why?
I believe in working for the people not just during elections. Bankura had drinking water problem due to high fluoride content. I took up the project to provide clean drinking water in Bankura and Purulia. After 2009, I have visited Bankura several times to improve the living conditions of the people and see that they have access to basic amenities. Elections will come and go, but we need to be beside the people at all times. I have never sought acclaim for my work.
BJP has taken a grip over Jangalmahal region.
Has BJP ever visited every block or region of the constituency to feel the pulse of the people. I have campaigned around Bankura for 10 hours in this heat per day from March 13. Have conducted roadshows in most villages and held meetings with grassroots-level workers in every block. Has BJP done this kind of campaigning?
Have tribals tilted towards the BJP?
Before the panchayat elections, some tribal communities had tilted towards the BJP but now the situation has changed. They will back Mamata Banerjee this time around.
Bankura has always been plagued by the water crisis.
Most of the ponds in Bankura are running dry. There is an acute water problem here and in neighbouring Purulia district. The TMC government has installed water pipes in most villages. Panchayat leaders have also been told to arrange water supplies for every household.
How did the drinking water project help Bankura?
We received funds for the project from abroad. In West Bengal, water in 83 blocks has high arsenic content. Arsenic is a major cause of cancer. Water in Bankura has high fluoride content, which results in tooth decay at a very early age. My priority is to see that drinking water in Bengal is arsenic free. Moreover, we are also working on the development of Mejia village. About 600 km roads are also being constructed in rural areas which have poor connectivity.
Will any industries be set up in Bankura?
There is considerable potential for setting up industries in the district. There is enough land. There is no lack of power here. There is also good rail connectivity. However, there is no port. We have a blueprint ready for setting up of industries.
How sure are you about your chances of winning from Bankura this time?
People of Bankura are politically aware of the situation in the ground. The CPI(M) is no more a force here. The CPI(M) and the BJP will play spoilsport for each other here and end up dividing opposition votes. Moreover, I will receive all the Congress votes too. I am 100 per cent sure of my victory from Bankura.