Burdwan: Union Minister and BJP leader S.S. Ahluwalia, who represented Darjeeling in the outgoing Lok Sabha, this time has to demonstrate his political mettle in Burdwan-Durgapur constituency of West Bengal against Mamtaz Sanghamita of the Trinamool Congress who is seeking re-election from the seat.
Ahluwalia’s seat may have been changed by the party this time but he is no stranger in Burdwan-Durgapur which is his ‘sasural’.
Analysts say it might not be a cakewalk for him but he has a chance in view of the rise in the saffron party’s support base across these districts.
Burdwan-Durgapur will have polling on Monday, in the fourth phase of the Lok Sabha polls.
Ahluwalia, a Sikh, is hoping for strong support from his community which has a sizeable population in the constituency. He has been visiting all the Gurudwaras besides other places as part of his campaigning.
The CPI-M has fielded its youth leader Abhas Ray Chaudhuri, while the Congress nominee is Ranajit Mukherjee.
The assembly constituencies falling under the Lok Sabha constituency were once known as “red bastions” but gradually, the Left parties lost ground in the face of storm of ‘parivartan’ (change) after the violent peasant unrest over the Left Front government’s bid to set up industrial units in areas like Singur and Nandigram.
The constituency had elected Saidul Haque of the CPI-M to the Lok Sabha in 2009 when he defeated then Trinamool Congress-backed Congress candidate Nargis Begam by over one lakh votes.
Sanghamitra snatched the seat after defeating Haque in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, also with a margin of over one lakh votes. BJP’s Debasree Chaudhuri came third securing, less than half of what the winner got.
The constituency, a mix of agrarian and industrial areas with both rural and urban electorate, was formed after the delimitation of parliamentary constituencies in 2008,
Burdwan-Durgapur comprises seven Assembly segments – Burdwan South, Burdwan North, Monteswar, Bhatar, Galsi, Durgapur East and Durgapur West and has over 17.32 lakh voters.
“Burdwan was once known as the greenery of Bengal and under the Left regime and current Trinamool rule, the resources of the area have been destroyed. We will introduce all the central schemes started by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for development of rural and urban Burdwan and industrial area of Durgapur,” Ahluwalia said.
Political analyst Bimal Shankar Nanda says the Muslim community’s support is apparently not a big factor but could come into play if the contest gets close.
“The constituency hangs in the balance though Muslim voters are apparently not a factor. But if the contest gets severe between the BJP and the Trinamool, the swing of the Muslim votes would be important,” he said.
“If the Trinamool manages to consolidate the Muslim votes in its favour, Ahluwalia would suffer. But if the CPI-M candidate can draw a significant fraction of Muslim votes, then Trinamool’s prospects may be hit,” he said.
Again, the battle may become tough for Trinamool in the urban areas where the anti-incumbency factor is more prominent compared to rural pockets. But if the CPI-M candidate manages to stop the exodus of its votes towards the BJP, the Trinamool will gain, Nanda said.
Sanghamitra had an early lead in the campaign as the saffron outfit took time to accommodate Ahluwalia in the constituency.
Trinamool is going all-out to retain the seat, with party supremo and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee campaigning heavily by holding several public meetings and road shows.
“The BJP is not a factor here and their candidate who has fled from Darjeeling would not be able to make any impact,” Sanghamitra told IANS.
CPI-M’s Ray Chaudhuri, however, felt the change in favour of the Left parties is “inevitable” this time despite the collapse of the seat adjustment talks between the Congress and the Left.
“The sitting Trinamool MP failed to address agricultural and industrial issues. The agrarian crisis has multiplied under the neo-liberal regime both at the centre and the state. Farmer’s suicides have been rampant in Burdwan as they did not receive remunerative price for their produce. What has she (Sanghamitra) done for them? Change is inevitable,” Chaudhuri told IANS.
Congress nominee Ranajit Mukherjee slammed Sanghamitra for not taking the initiative for “revival of the large industries” of Durgapur.
“In a bid to revive the large industries from alloy to steel plants, neither the centre not the state, has taken requisite steps for improving the infrastructural support. Instead, the land of closed industries is being sold,” Mukherjee charged.
Chaudhuri alleged that the Narendra Modi government was “keen to divest” its stake in Alloy Steel Plant while the Mamata Banerjee government has ruined Durgapur Chemicals and Durgapur Projects.
Incidentally, the central government has shelved plans for strategic sale of state-run Steel Authority of India’s Alloy Steel Plant in Durgapur.
Refuting the opposition’s allegations, Sanghamita said: “Our party is committed to revival of large industries and the state government is taking all possible steps for industrialisation.”
An aggressive Trinamool Congress, which had topped in all the seven Assembly segments in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, however, lost two – Durgapur East and Durgapur West – to the CPI-M and the Congress during the 2016 Assembly polls.
But Trinamool has strengthened its political domination in the East and West Burdwan district over the past three years, capturing the zilla parishad (top tier of the three-rung panchayat system in Bengal) and municipalities.