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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 19, May 11, 2024

2024 General Election: The Battle of Stars is in Full Swing in the Industrial Belt of Bengal | Tirthankar Mitra

Saturday 11 May 2024


Film actor Shatrughan Sinha and cricketer Kirti Azad are Trinamool’s candidates

May 10, 2024

Veterans of Trinamool Congress and BJP have locked horns in Burdwan-Durgapur-Asansol industrial belt of Bengal once the most go to place for a job seeking engineer or a manual labourer. A low voter turnout is not unlikely in these constituencies on May 13 -in the fourth phase of Lok Sabha elections in the state. After years of cohabiting in the neighbourhood of closed Public Sector Units (PSUs) and once blue chip private sector enterprises, many voters feel no matter who is elected, this area once known as "Ruhr of Bengal" is long past its salad days.

As the Trinamool Congress and BJP candidates take the electoral battle field at Burdwan-Durgapur Lok Sabha seat, they would appear to be apparently new comers. But the voters have come to know better after BJP candidate Dilip Ghosh and TMC nominee Kirti Azad have hit the campaign trail.

As the former state BJP chief, Ghosh is not unfamiliar to Burdwan-Durgapur constituency where he has been "parachuted" from Medinipur Lok Sabha seat which he now represents.. As regards Azad, he is a well known cricketer who belonged to the World Cup winning squad of India. TMC wants to market him in cricket crazy Bengal.

Intra-party politicking comes to the fore before one gets down to the nitty gritty of the run up to May 13 elections. The former state saffron camp chief, Ghosh at odds with the powers that be in his own party has been shunted to this constituency from Medinipur where he won in 2019 elections। But spare the thought, if Ghosh is considered to be all at sea. Many dissident BJP leaders read those belonging to his coterie are flocking to him giving his campaign vim and vigour.

The other advantage the BJP nominee possesses is that Surinder Singh Ahluwalia who is BJP candidate from Asansol constituency, represented the saffron camp from this constituency for the past five years. He is extending full support to Ghosh. But the local TMC leadership is aiming to put it to Azad’s advantage claiming Ahluwalia’s role in the constituency development left much to be desired.

Though irked at his change of constituency, Ghosh is putting up a brave face. Asked about Ahluwalia’s infrequent visits to Burdwan-Durgapur, the BJP points out quickly that a MP’s job differs from that of a councillor.

Strangely enough, the BJP nominee has pinned his hopes of success on the Left and Congress votes going to the saffron kitty as in 2019 election. His claims were rubbished by CPI(M) nominee, Sukriti Ghosal. Of the seven Assembly segments of this Lok Sabha, six are represented by TMC nominees. One Assembly segment has a legislator of BJP being a pointer to its support base.

Denying intra-party squabble for his change of constituency, Ghosh feels he stands a better chance of winning. According to him, as a resident of West Bengal, he stands a better chance of victory than Azad as the TMC nominee is from Bihar. He gives the TC nominee the bahiragata (outsider) tag.

This contention leaves Azad unfazed. A member of the Indian cricket team which won the World Cup in 1983, he brushes aside the tag of an outsider and underscores his intention "to be in the game till the last ball is bowled ".

Not too far away from this Lok Sabha constituency is Asansol where TMC nominee Shatrughan Sinha is taking on BJP candidate Surinder Singh Ahluwalia. If "khamosh"(silence) was the most popular dialogue which Sinha delivered in successive films as a Bollywood hero, he can no longer do so.

In the hurly burly of a democratic election, the last thing a contestant can do is to ask his opponent to shut up. Moreover, old ties cannot be thus snapped as Ahluwalia and he were not only once fellow MPs but Cabinet colleagues in the ministry of Atal Behari Vajpayee. Yet with announcement of Ahluwalia’s candidature, Sinha has been on a leg up. A son of the soil of Asansol and speaking Bengali fluently, the BJP candidate has earned himself the unenviable tag of a "political rolling stone."

Having won from Darjeeling in 2014 and Burdwan-Durgapur in 2019, BJP has fielded Ahluwalia from Asansol. The 2014 and 2019 elections saw BJP nominees winning from this constituency inhabited by a large number of people from Bihar, stated to be a vote bank of the saffron camp.

But ever since 2022 by-elections necessitated by Babul-Supriyo’s resignation and move to Trinamool, the TMC gained a foothold in Asansol. Roots were struck by Sinha, with his larger than life star image, spontaneous delivery of dialogues, frequent trips to his constituency thereby expanding his own popularity base and that of his party.

Privatisation of coalmines, drinking water scarcity and reining in illegal mining in abandoned collieries are issues which the TMC nominee is highlighting. Interestingly, the same set of issues are spoken of by Congress supported CPI(M) nominee, Jahanara Khan in what once used to be a Left citadel.

The BJP’s vote share after reaching 51.07 per cent in 2019 election is going south. In 2021 Assembly polls the saffron camp vote share dropped by 10 per cent while the by-election next year witnessed a slump of 30.05 per cent.

On the other hand, the TMC vote slice rose by 11 per cent in 2021 assembly elections. In the by-poll, the TMC secured 50.06 per cent. Of the seven Assembly segments, six have TMC legislators. One has a BJP MLA making the odds heavier against Ahluwalia. In this backdrop, Sinha need not mouth his favourite film dialogue "Khamosh"(silence). His onetime Cabinet colleague turned political rival from the saffron camp, Ahluwalia already seems to be at a loss for words. (IPA Service)

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