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Hot seat Basirhat Dakshin: where lotus blooms amid the grassroots

Sourjya Bhowmick | Updated on: 25 April 2016, 12:31 IST
QUICK PILL
The track record
  • TMC won 15 of the 16 seats in Howrah district in 2011, while in North 24 Parganas, it won 28 of 33
  • In terms of 2014 general election trends, the BJP would\'ve won two seats in North 24 Parganas
The significance
  • One of those two seats would\'ve been Basirhat Dakshin, where BJP\'s Shamik Bhattacharya won a bypoll in 2014
  • This is the only seat the BJP holds in the Bengal Assembly at present
More in the story
  • Has the BJP MLA done well in his short time in the hotseat?
  • What TMC and CPI(M) workers have to say about the contest

Monday, 25 April, will see polling for the fourth phase of the Bengal Assembly elections, with 49 seats spread over the districts of Howrah (16) and North 24 Parganas (33) up for grabs.

In 2011, the Trinamool Congress had won 15 seats in Howrah, with one seat (Amta) going to the Congress. In North 24 Parganas, it had won 28 seats, followed by the CPI(M) with four and the Congress with one.

If one were to go by the Assembly segment-wise trend in the 2014 general elections, the TMC would've swept Howrah (only one seat would see a contest if Congress and CPI(M) votes are combined).

In North 24 Parganas, the BJP would've won two seats (Bhatpara and Basirhat Dakshin), while the Congress and CPI(M) combined would've won three seats.

As such, the fourth phase is likely to see a near clean-sweep for the ruling TMC. But there's one seat which has become an interesting focal point for this phase.

Basirhat Dakshin in the spotlight

In late 2014, BJP's Shamik Bhattacharya won the Basirhat Dakshin seat by 1,742 votes in a bypoll, after the sitting MLA and Left stalwart Narayan Mukherjee passed away. This remains the only seat the BJP holds in the Bengal Assembly.

Making things more interesting, the TMC is also a strong factor, as it controls the Basirhat and Taki municipalities.

In 2011, TMC won 15 of 16 seats in Howrah district, while in North 24 Parganas, it won 28 out of 33

Opposition parties claim the BJP's foothold is slowly decreasing in the area. However, in Catch's on-ground coverage of the Bengal polls so far, this was the only constituency where BJP posters, flags and campaigning seem to have overtaken the TMC's as well as the Congress-Left combine's in terms of sheer volume.

"This seat will be a tight contest between the BJP and the TMC. Shamik has really done a lot of work in the past 18 months, not only in urban areas but also in rural Basirhat. He never discriminates on the basis of religion," says a septuagenarian, who runs a photocopy and stationary shop at Pifa, Basirhat.

His shop transforms into the locals' meeting spot in the evening, with many of his friends and neighbours visiting.

They have just one worry. "During the municipal elections last year, many polling booths in this area were captured even before 8 am. This was unimaginable even in the heyday of the Left," one man says.

"But, rest assured, Shamik is surely making great strides in the urban areas. He is polite, gentle and interacts with everyone, across political spectrums, and with transparency," is the conclusion that the group has reached.

Impressive achievements

Among the group, there's an old man who claims he was the BJP's ward head in the late 1990s. He doesn't want to be named, though.

"I had built a strong organisation here by the early 2000s. However, I was shifted outside the state by my employer. I returned after eight years, had a bypass surgery, left my job and resumed politics. I was surprised to see that people who were with BJP earlier had now become TMC or CPI(M) polling agents," he laments, on being asked about the organisational history of the BJP in the area.

"Later on, with the Modi wave gaining momentum, people started returning to the party. And after Shamik won in 2014, we are sure of a win this time. People may be scared of the TMC and join their rallies, but discreetly, they have assured us of their votes."

BJP's Shamik Bhattacharya won a 2014 bypoll, making this the only seat the party holds in Bengal

He hands this correspondent a list of Shamik's achievements, and it looks impressive. It also clearly highlights how he has been helped by the Central government (Railways, HRD, Minority Affairs) to get the job done. He has even sanctioned funds for a park to be built in memory of the late Narayan Mukherjee, the Left stalwart of Basirhat.

The pamphlet also claims, "I have never put up hoardings with my name and picture to demand credit", clearly taking a dig at TMC candidate Dipendu Biswas, the former India footballer, who had lost to Shamik in the 2014 bypoll.

TMC claims credit too

TMC workers, on the other hand, harp upon the 'development' ushered by the party, through the municipalities that are under their control.

They talk of new hotels, recreation parks, a stadium (where Dipendu hopes international matches will be played), and how the sub-divisional hospital has been upgraded to a district hospital, due to added facilities.

But a government official, who has been posted in the region for the last four years, is confident that Shamik will win.

"Shamik has a clear advantage. He is extremely popular. There is a Hindu vote consolidation due to rising infiltration from Bangladesh; brick kiln owners (who were hounded by the TMC for 'cut' money) have reposed their faith in him, and there are RSS camps working in the rural areas. Even the TMC has done some good work, but Shamik will win," he says.

The decline of the Left

Catch also met Mrinal Chakraborty, a zonal committee member of the CPI(M), who had lost to Shamik in the 2014 bypoll. As we approach him, he is busy managing a sabha on behalf of the Congress candidate, Amit Majumder.

"Shamik reaped the benefits of the Modi wave. There are seven gram panchayats and two municipalities where there is a sizable Hindu population, who voted for him. However, rural Muslims are slowly understanding that they have to stop the BJP," Chakraborty says.

He also laments the fact that the rise of the BJP has made a major dent in the CPI(M)'s vote bank, and hints at a lot of bickering in the Congress over the choice of candidate.

No one knows why the CPI(M), the strongest party here till two years ago, is not contesting

No one really knows why the CPI(M), the strongest party in the area till even two years ago, is not contesting on behalf of the combine. Neither is there an answer to why Amit Majumdar has been chosen by as the candidate over his father Asit Majumdar, a political heavyweight in Basirhat and an election veteran.

Chakraborty quietly admits: "It is a fact that Shamik is very popular in the region."

And so, while the TMC may complete a virtual sweep of the fourth phase, at least in one small corner of the field, a lotus could bloom.

First published: 25 April 2016, 12:31 IST
 
Sourjya Bhowmick @sourjyabhowmick

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