The latest edition of the Trinamool Congress’s video series ‘Outside Parliament’ talks about the “thousands” of jobs that are being generated in West Bengal.
Munni Khatun does not agree.
All of 20 years, Munni would have celebrated her third marriage anniversary on April 23 — the day her constituency Malda South votes. That date and a baby are all that remain now of her marriage to Azad Momin. Two months ago, Azad came home in a coffin from Uttar Pradesh, one of nine from the area killed in a blast at a carpet factory in Bhadohi.
In Enayatpur, employment is scarce, forcing young men to head to Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Mumbai and even the Middle East to look for jobs. Village after village only has old men, women and children. For the young men who have stayed back, the options are limited, with most selling ice-cream, running small eateries, or working in the mango orchards for Rs 200-300 per day.
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Near the border, in Mohodipur, the 200-odd trucks carrying onions and stone chips into Bangladesh is the only source of income.
“There are no jobs here. Even I was working in the Saudi till very recently. They slashed our salaries from Rs 40,000 to Rs 15,000, so I came back. I have some savings for now, but I will head out soon in search of a job,” says Saminur Rahman, in his early thirties, one of the few men his age in Enayatpur village.
There is crushing poverty in these parts but not necessarily lack of education. Tairan Bewa, in her mid-forties, who lost two sons in the Bhadohi blast, says her daughter-in-law has studied till Class 12 and since the tragedy she has been petitioning the village pradhan for a job for the young girl. But there has been no response, and the family is still awaiting the Rs 2 lakh compensation announced for each of those killed in the blast. With her two sons dead, Tairan hopes to get Rs 4 lakh, but there’s a catch: “The money will come only after the elections,” she says.
That, and the “fear of the BJP”, is perhaps why Tairan and all her neighbours vow to vote for the Trinamool Congress in a seat that is traditionally known to be a Congress fortress due to the influence of former Union minister A B A Ghani Khan Chowdhury. Of the four seats that the Congress won in 2014 from West Bengal, two are in Malda (both Malda North and South). From schools to hospitals to roads, Chowdhury’s imprint is everywhere.
In Malda South, incumbent Congress MP Abu Hasem Khan Chowdhury, Ghani’s brother, locally referred to as Daluda, is contesting again. As Moakkim Hossain, a driver in Manikchak puts it, “Here even a banana leaf with Ghani’s name would make it.” He is candid about his own past too. “I used to be a political worker for the Left, but now that chapter is over. No point getting beaten up,” says Moakkim, who now along with his neighbours, is supporting the Congress.
Renu Siddiqui, a housewife, nods in agreement, adding that she is fascinated by Priyanka Gandhi. “She’s doing what a sister should do, I like her,” she says.
There is also some heartburn over the exit of sitting Malda North MP Mausam Noor (Ghani’s niece) from the Congress. In fact, when Noor, now the Trinamool candidate from the seat, went to campaign in Raipur, she was at the receiving end of voters’ ire over lack of roads, drinking water etc.
In Malda town, however, the narrative changes. The urban voter is strongly inclined towards the “articulate, able” leader, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who most say is an antithesis of Daluda.
“Daluda to mukh diye awaj beroy na (Daluda doesn’t say a word). What development has he done? There is a huge support for BJP. There is a colleague of mine whose family is in the military and they speak very highly of Modi. Half my school supports the BJP. Even in 2014 we thought the BJP would win. The Congress’s win came as a surprise,” says a local school teacher, who does not wish to be named.
Soon, the campaign vehicle of Malda South BJP candidate Sreerupa Mitra Chowdhury arrives, belting out a song set to a Bihari tune extolling the virtues of the aerial strikes in Balakot “that killed 300” and the bravery of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. In these remote, poor and illiterate parts of the country, nobody questions the use of the Army’s name in the election campaign. But while the nationalism pitch does draw crowds, it is the lack of development that really is on everyone’s minds.
“There is an engineering college here but it has no placements. There is an I-T hub coming up in Narayanpur but that has not started yet…,” says the 52-year-old teacher.