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INDIA VOTE

CPI(M) sole challenger to Trinamool in Jadavpur

Cogencis, Thursday, May 16

By Subham Mitra

NEW DELHI – Mamata Banerjee has been synonymous with West Bengal politics over the past eight years. But the state's political history could have been starkly different had Banerjee, then a greenhorn Youth Congress leader, not defeated Communist Party of India (Marxist) stalwart Somnath Chatterjee in the General Elections of 1984 from the Jadavpur constituency.

The upset Banerjee caused in her first electoral foray catapulted her to the hierarchy of the then Congress from where she charted her path to the chief minister's chair.

Jadavpur, which goes to polls on Sunday, will see a three-cornered fight among the Trinamool Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party, and the CPI(M).

The Trinamool has fielded Bengali actress Mimi Chakraborty–a surprise decision considering the prestige associated with the seat–after incumbent Sugata Bose, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose's grand nephew, chose not to contest. The CPI(M) has nominated senior advocate Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, while the BJP has fielded expelled Trinamool lawmaker Anupam Hazra.

Jadavpur has swung between parties throughout its electoral history. The CPI(M) has won the seat five times, while the Trinamool and the Congress have won it four and two times, respectively.

The Trinamool began tightening its grip on Jadavpur in 2009 when, at the height of the anti-Left movement, singer Kabir Suman wrested the seat from the CPI(M). Bose followed it up with a victory of his own in 2014, securing 45.83% of the votes polled, against 36.01% for the CPI(M).

The BJP had managed 12.20% of the popular vote that year, but Hazra–an assistant professor in social work department of Visva Bharati University–is seemingly hoping to use Prime Minister Narendra Modi's image among the ambitious middle-class and the Trinamool's alleged excesses to cause an upset. He is also banking on internal strife within local Trinamool leaders and their alleged corruption to get him over the line.

However, most political observers in the state believe that despite its ailing organisational strength, the CPI(M) remains the main challenger to the Trinamool.

The constituency in South 24 Parganas district offers a diverse mix of the urban and the rural, and is one of the state's most politically volatile areas. Among the seven Assembly segments is Bhangar, which witnessed a violent movement in 2017 against land acquisition for a proposed power grid project that led to the deaths of two protesters, allegedly in police firing.

In this backdrop, Banerjee's decision to field a non-politician may have raised eyebrows, but the firebrand leader has relied on a tried-and-tested method that reaped rewards in 2014. While Chakraborty has been trolled for several faux pas during her campaign, everyone would agree she is a just a stand-in and that their vote was, eventually, one for Banerjee.

Bhattacharya, on the other hand, is the Left's best hope of preventing a washout in the state. The Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) – Red Star, which led the protest movement in Bhangar, has lent support to the former Kolkata mayor, who was counsel to the anti-land acquisition movement activists jailed by the state government. Several intellectuals have also appealed to elect him as the "voice of the people".

The Congress, despite failing to agree to a seat-share deal with the Left, has not fielded any candidate in solidarity with Bhattacharya.

Even local Trinamool leaders accept Bhattacharya as the only credible challenge. "The BJP has not kept any of its promises. They have now resorted to invoking the Indian Armed Forces and using communalism to gain votes–they are playing with people's emotions," said Mainkanta Paria, president of the Trinamool Chhatra Parishad's Jadvapur University unit.

While he rubbished claims of a "surge" in support for the BJP, Paria also hoped that people from the urban areas would not waste their votes on the CPI(M) and instead, choose the Trinamool to defeat the BJP.

The CPI(M) also believes that Bhattacharya's candidature has helped the party's poll prospects.

"The Trinamool is trying to spread terror, filing false cases…but there have also been resistance at local levels–many of which have been led by women," CPI(M) West Bengal State Committee Member Tushar Ghosh said.

Ghosh also expressed ire at the media reducing the elections to a Modi vs Mamata fight. "…we have seen many more Trinamool leaders move to the BJP for financial reasons and rampant factionalism. This is the opposite of what is being portrayed in the media, which is only highlighting defections from the CPI(M)."

He said even if CPI(M) votes were moving to the BJP, the number was marginal.

The CPI(M), which retains much of its vote bank in the urban areas of Jadavpur, hopes to secure enough support in its erstwhile rural bastions to give itself a chance. It is counting on increased presence of central security forces to prevent re-runs of alleged booth capturing that plagued earlier phases. 

For Banerjee and the Trinamool, it's a matter of margin.
Below are the details of the electoral outcome in the constituency in the 2014 General Elections:

Total electorate: 1.6 mln
Total votes polled: 1.3 mln​​​​​​​
Voter turnout: 79.88%

CANDIDATE PARTY VOTES SECURED

VOTE SHARE (OVER TOTAL VOTES POLLED)

Sugata Bose Trinamool 584,244  45.83%
Sujan Chakraborty CPI(M) 459,041 36.01%
Swarup Prasad Ghosh  BJP 155,511   12.20%

End

Edited by Ramya J.S. D'Rozario

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