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Mainstream, Vol XLVII No 24, May 30, 2009

The Keshpur Line

Tuesday 2 June 2009, by Meher Engineer

Here is a “Result Declared”. It is taken from the website of the Election Commission of India.

S.No.NamePartyVotes
1 GURUDAS DASGUPTA CPI 625923
2 NARAYAN CHANDRA SAMAT BSP 12065
3 NURE ALAM CHOWDHURY AITC 478739
4 MATILAL KHATUA BJP 35004
5 ARUN KUMAR DAS JMM 5333
6 AHITOSH MAITY RDMP 3515
7 LIYAKAT KHAN IJP 9355

It is for West Bengal’s Ghatal Lok Sabha seat = Panskura West, Sabang, Pingla, Debra, Daspur, Ghatal (SC) and Keshpur (SC) Assembly segments. The seat grew out of the Panskura Lok Sabha seat (having Daspur, Nandanpur, Panskura West, Sabang, Pingla, Debra, Keshpur Assembly segments) after delimitation.

A CPI candidate has won the seat since 1980. That is unsurprising. Some party in the Left Front has won most of West Bengal’s Lok Sabha seats since then. So why focus on Ghatal? The answer is that, unlike many of the Left Front dominated Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal, it stood firm in 2009.

“So what,” you might say, “if it stood, then it stood.” Not, according to the People’s Committee for the Restoration of Democracy at Keshpur (PCRD). They allege massive rigging in the Keshpur segment’s 226 polling booths—fair polling was allowed in only 19 of the booths—happened, via “booth capture”.

The allegations do not surprise me. The Commi-ttee’s members had expressed great worry on that very score, on April 28, 2009, a day before campaigning was scheduled to end, when I, along with seven other people from Kolkata, had visited Keshpur at the Committee’s request. The worries came at the end of a long day spent in talking to local folk at many villages and settlements and to S.R. Raju, the Election Commission’s observer for the Keshpur segment. The villagers, who were silent in public, were frank in private. They were sure that the elections would be foul. Shri Raju, whom we met after visiting the villages, told us that we were welcome to join him and the Central forces at his command (26 companies of armed men, each company with a separate vehicle) on polling day, that he had fought with the local DM and SP to see that things did not get out of hand. He was sure that the people would vote without fear. We were welcome to come and see that they did, for ourselves.

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But that was not to be. The tune changed when we sent in a Fax the next day, announcing that 20 of us would be there. Permission for moving around in a car was not his to give, but the DM’s. The ADM was contacted. He said, “Speak to the DM.” The DM was contacted. He said: “I know nothing. I’ll check with Raju.” The usual run around, IAS style. Goodbye, Keshpur. Good morning, Gurudas Dasgupta.

One more thing needs to be said to Gurudasbabu himself. One of the homes that we had visited belongs to Budheshwar Mahato and his family. Mahato was not present. He was in hospital. A part of his left arm had been shot away when he had visited his home. He had been away for nine years, working as a day labourer in Medinipur town. The years of exile and the shooting at home were for the same reason: disobedience to the party’s will.

I will not describe the conversation that we had with Budheswarji’s young daughter-in-law, the fear in her eyes and the low and hesitant voice in which she spoke, at all fully. I will only repeat what she said after we came out of her home and I saw “Vote for CPI candidate Gurudas Dasgupta” splashed across the wall of her home. I asked: “Who has done this?” She said: “Those who shot my father-in-law and ransacked the family home. They came the next day, told us to set the house in order, painted the slogan (I should say demand) and left.”

I have often said, during demonstrations in West Bengal over the past few years, that if Benoy Konar should come to my home in Kolkata, I will greet him with a “Hellcome” instead of a “Welcome”. I have said it knowing that everyone would understand because everyone knows what Benoybabu had said about the rebels of Nandigram: “We will make their life hell.”

The slogan on the wall of the Mahato home in Keshpur has removed all desire to say it.

The author, an independent scientist, is the President, Indian Social Sciences Academy. He is a former Director, Bose Institute, Kolkata.

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