Ground Report: ‘Modi Won’t Be Able To Enter Here’: In West Bengal’s Murshidabad, BJP’s Chances Look Dim
Issues of job creation and women’s safety concern the voters in Behrampore and Jangipur constituencies in the district.
Retired government official Partha Mukherjee and general store owner Sadhin Ghosh burst into laughter when asked if there is a Modi wave. “What! Aren’t you aware of the economic crisis in the country? Look at the places where BJP MPs were elected last time,” Mukherjee says. Ghosh adds, “Everyone also knows about the sad state of affairs in Uttar Pradesh and other BJP-ruled states. Yes, Modi has some supporters. But Modi won’t be able to enter here.” The two senior citizens also expressed their anguish at the job scenario noting that even MPhil and postgraduates are forced to drive e-rickshaws in Behrampore.
Behrampore is one of the three constituencies in Murshidabad district, West Bengal. The other two constituencies are Jangipur and Murshidabad.
The voters in Behrampore credit Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury for making the constituency a peaceful and safe place and for allowing small businesses to flourish, among other things. Women and young girls roam freely even as late as 10 pm on the streets which is not a common feature in most of the small towns in the eastern state.
Driver Susanta Modak underlines that if Chowdhury is voted out this time, security will become a big issue. “Since Trinamool government was formed in the state, the party’s goons often create trouble here. Chowdhury has kept the situation under control. If he is voted out, it won’t remain safe. There was a time when nobody travelled through some roads in the town after dark and girls were molested. But, Chowdhury changed Berhampore,” Modak says.
Considering the senior Congress leader’s popularity, it becomes clear that Trinamool nominee and Congress detector Apurba Sarkar has a difficult task at hand. Sarkar has left the grand old party along with many other Congress party members who were Chowdhury’s former aides. However, he will most likely retain his seat comfortably though Mamata Banerjee’s party is not giving up easily and the ex-Congressmen are running the campaign against him after joining t Trinamool.
The CPI(M) is also supporting Chowdhury instead of Revolutionary Socialist Party candidate Id Mohammad. Congress district spokesperson Jayanta Das hit out at Trinamool for using violent tactics in areas like Salar, Kandhi and parts of Nowda to scare the Congress workers on the campaign trail. He alleges that some Trinamool panchayat members roam freely with pistols on their belts.
In the last elections, Chowdhury had won by a margin of 356,567 votes against Trinamool’s Indranil Sen. The question is, how much will his margin reduce this time. Berhampore will vote on April 29.
“Without beedi industry Jangipur will become Kalahandi”
For the voters of Jangipur Parliamentary constituency, Abhijeet Mukherjee is Pranab Mukherjee’s son first and then their MP. They recall how the former President had opened branches of banks like Indian Overseas Bank (IOB) and United Bank of India (UBI) in their district which proved to be a saviour post-demonetisation. Abhijeet hasn’t brought any noticeable change and mostly remains absent, many voters complain.
Almost six lakh of Jangipur’s over 16 lakh voters are bidi workers. Abhijeet has not paid much attention to their needs during his tenure which will definitely have an impact on the results. One of their main demands is shifting of the regional PF Office from Berhampore to Jangipur, where it was originally located. Moreover, the workers are paid less than Rs 150 per 1,000 beedis which is much less than the stipulated minimum wage and the hospital built for their service lies in shambles.
The women-dominated beedi industry, which is an integral part of the district’s economy, is reeling under severe crisis as middlemen give fewer tendu leaves (i.e. work for fewer days), don’t pay for 100 beedis out of 1000 by rejecting on some pretext or the other. Interestingly, Trinamool’s candidate Khalilur Rehman is a beedi baron. Veteran CPI (M) leader Abul Hasnat Khan says, “The beedi companies make profits in crores. But, they don’t pay the workers. The industry will slowly die if things continue to function in this manner. Without the beedi industry, Jangipur will collapse, it will become Kalahandi.”
The main contenders against Abhijeet are Trinamool nominee Khalilur Rahaman and CPI(M) candidates Md. Zulfikar Ali. BJP has fielded Mafuja Khatun. In 2014 polls, Mukherjee had won against CPI (M)’s Muzaffar Hossain by a slim margin of 8,161 votes. Will he manage to trade through with Pranab Mukherjee’s supporters rooting for him? Jangipur votes on April 23.
Untapped tourism industry
Murshidabad — the Bengal capital of the Mughals — sees few tourists. The hotel and transport industry operates at a small scale here. Several jobs and business opportunities will open up if the monuments and ancient mosques are publicised and infrastructure is built in this historically significant district. Muslims are 66 per cent of the population in the Murshidabad constituency. Hence, all three parties have fielded Muslim candidates.
About on jobs and the tourism prospects, Humayun Kabir, ex-Trinamool minister and BJP Murshidabad nominee says “What did the Congress MPs before and the CPI(M) do now? They simply went to the Parliament.” Sitting CPI(M) MP Badaruddoza Khan, however, suggests that he raised the issue in his capacity and blamed the Mamata Banerjee government for the flawed policies which are a hurdle for creation of industries.
Khan is facing a tough battle in Murshidabad as the seat is traditionally considered a Congress bastion and Trinamool is also eyeing to open its account here. Trinamool has fielded MLA Abu Taher Khan, who recently quit the grand old party. Lalgola MLA Abu Hena is the Congress’ candidate. In 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the CPI(M) leader won by 184,53 votes against Congress party’s Abdul Mannan.
Murshidabad is divided into three constituencies. Will the Congress party win all three or just one? This is a crucial question. Local residents just hope to witness development in the form of new jobs so that they can consider not living as migrants, separated from their families.