Standing at the back of a goods vehicle in the sweltering heat, maintaining balance every time the wheels hit a pothole and waving at strangers is not the ideal situation for a construction engineer-turned-professor at Jadavpur University.
But Partha Pratim Biswas, the CPI(M) candidate from Tollygunge on the southern fringes of Kolkata, has little option in this battle for Bengal. "You should decide from your experience for whom you should cast your vote on April 27," he says on the loudspeaker. But balconies in the multi-storey buildings at Netajinagar, once considered a bastion of the Marxists, remain virtually empty. But he is undeterred.
Local CPI(M) leaders, Mrityunjoy Chakraborty, councillor of Ward 98, and Susanto (Babla) Roy Chowdhury, the local committee secretary, offer him tips on campaigning. As the vehicle reaches Raipur, Chakraborty whispers to Biswas: "Look at the third floor of that four-storey building. Someone is standing. Wave at him." A few minutes later, Chakraborty comes up with another piece of advice. "Do you see that man? Fold your hands. In the last election, he supported the Trinamool."
The vehicle moves towards Ranikuthi. There has been a sea change in the mindset of Tollygunge residents. Ask any local voter and he will tell you that Biswas is fighting a tough battle although in 2006 he lost to Trinamool's Arup Biswas, who is also contesting for the second time like him, by only 526 votes. "It is a very tough battle but not a lost one," admits the academic.
Before delimitation, Tollygunge constituency comprised six wards of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation - 81, 89, 94, 95, 97 and 98. But during delimitation wards 81 and 89 - both strongholds of the Trinamool - were cut out from Tollygunge. In 2006, Biswas got his winning votes precisely from these wards. This time around, the two wards have been replaced by five others: 100, 111, 112, 113 and 114. During the municipal polls in 2010, these five wards were recognised as citadels of the CPI(M).
Even during the Lok Sabha polls in 2009, Trinamool's Kabir Suman won the Jadavpur seat but trailed by more than 7,000 votes in the Tollygunge assembly segment. However, the KMC election reversed the political equation. Trinamool got a lead of 8,155 votes in nine wards at Tollygunge and won from six. The results proved that Tollygunge had become unsafe for the Left even after inclusion of five wards known to be stronghold of the Marxists.
The CP(M) candidate feels that change in demographic pattern has influenced the voting pattern. "Almost 50% of the electorate comprise erstwhile refugees from East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. They were our strength. But after multi-storeyed apartments started mushrooming on colony land allotted to refugees, thousands of people migrated to Tollygunge. They constitute about 25% of the local population. On the one hand, these people play a substantial role in voting. On the other, they influence old voters, especially the new generation that does not have much idea about Left's struggle for refugees and farmers in the Seventies."
Old residents of the area, like homemaker Mukti Bhattacharjee from Moore Avenue, admit that Marxists have lost their edge and influence. "I follow Mamata Banerjee. Therefore I will support only her candidate and nobody else, " she said candidly.
"The job is tough but the arithmetic in parliamentary election worked in our favour," said the CPI(M) candidate.
"This is what the CPI(M) loves to claim. But in reality it benefits me rather than them," said Trinamool's Arup Biswas.