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Kolkata flyover collapse is now an election issue. Will it hurt Mamata much?

Rajat Roy | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 6:06 IST

Inevitably at election time, even an accident becomes a political issue, more so if it's man-made. Like the collapse of an under-construction flyover in the heart of Kolkata Thursday.

Within hours of the tragedy, the political class of West Bengal was engaged in a heated blame game. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee visited the site of the accident and sought to blame it on the opposition Left Front. She pointed out that the contract for the flyover had been awarded to a Hyderabad-based company by the previous Left government.

Ashok Bhattacharjee, the urban development minister in the Left regime, immediately rebutted her. "The contract was awarded through competitive bidding and in a transparent manner. The work began later, and most of the construction was done in the last five years. If the construction company was not doing the work properly, why did this government not do anything about it?"

Also read: TMC dismisses sting operations on its leaders as smear campaign

Pointing out that Mamata had announced sometime ago that the flyover would be operational before the election, Bhattacharjee said, "It seems the accident occurred as the construction was being done with undue haste. Who is responsible for that?"

On the back foot

Mamata's preemptive attack notwithstanding, her Trinamool Congress is clearly on the defensive. Kolkata mayor Shovan Chatterjee and the state's Disaster Management Minister Javed Khan were heckled by an irate mob when they visited the accident site. They had to be escorted out by the police. Another minister Arup Biswas had a similar experience later. After that, other

Trinamool leaders did not go near the place.

CPI(M): If the construction firm was not doing the work properly, why did this regime not do anything?

The Trinamool can't duck the blame for this tragedy, however much they try. After all, when Gyaneswari Express derailed near Kharagpur in 2010 - just a few days before state-wide municipal elections - killing over 170 passengers, Mamata had immediately held the ruling Left Front responsible. This despite there being enough reason to believe it was the handiwork of the Maoists, as was later established. So, the Trinamool is evidently "in a bit of an awkward situation" this time, as a party insider put it.

The opposition parties are aware of this, and have upped the ante. The state president of the Congress Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury visited Calcutta Medical College Hospital, where most of the critically injured are being treated, and launched a scathing attack against the government. "Where is that urban development minister (Firhad Hakim) who recently featured in the sting video taking a bribe? We need to know how much he took from this project?"

Also read: West Bengal polls: Kharagpur loved Modi, but will it vote for BJP?

Chowdhury alleged the people of West Bengal were "paying a heavy price for the corrupt practices of ruling party politicians". Fellow Congress leader Deepa Dasmunshi demanded an inquiry "to fix responsibility".

Cause for concern

The BJP's Union minister Babul Supriyo, a Kolkata native, said the Mamata government "has not learnt any lessons from a similar accident at Ultadanga, Kolkata a few years ago".

Congress: Where's that minister who was stung taking a bribe? How much did he take from this project?

The CPI(M) was more restrained. The party's spokesperson Md Selim said this was not the time for a blame game. "Instead, all efforts should be trained on rescuing people who are still trapped under the debris and saving those in hospitals," he said, adding that cadres of the party's youth wing, the SFI, have "already made a beeline for the Central Blood Bank to donate blood". Selim also "appealed to all people to come forward and join hands in rescue and related work".

Also read: Top 9 developments on the Kolkata flyover collapse

The accident could not have come at a worst time for the Trinamool, which is still struggling to contain the fallout of the Narada sting operation. This while the Congress and the Left Front have joined hands to fight the ruling party in the impending assembly polls. The first phase on 4 April covers Junglemahal, and the Trinamool is confident today's accident won't have much impact there.

But the tragedy would certainly be on the minds of people in Kolkata, North and South 24 Parganas, Howrah, Hooghly and adjoining areas when they vote later in April. No surprise, the Trinamool leaders are worried.

Edited by Mehraj D Lone

Also read: Kolkata bridge collapse: How will accident affect Mamata Banerjee's assembly poll prospects?

First published: 31 March 2016, 11:37 IST
Rajat Roy

Journalist based out of Kolkata.