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Intense contest in rebel country

The opposition last won the Jhargram assembly seat in 1972. Koushik Dutta reports.

india Updated: May 09, 2011 17:15 IST
Koushik Dutta

The opposition last won the Jhargram assembly seat in 1972. Since then, the seat has been retained by the CPI(M). This time, the Trinamool Congress is trying hard to wrest Jhargram. The contest will be intense, local voters say, and it will not be easy for the CPI(M) to resist Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee’s call for change.

Thanks to delimitation, the geographical character of Jhargram constituency has changed. The Maoist-dominated areas are now part of the constituency. While CPI(M) is worried of the Maoists and particularly the effect of the Netai killings, Chhatradhar Mahato, the arrested PCAPA leader, contesting the election from Midnapore Central Correctional Home, has become the latest headache for Trinamool.

This is a triangular contest, making things tough for the two opposition candidates.

In 1972, the erstwhile king of Jhargram, Birendra Bijay Malladeb, won the Jhargram seat on a Congress ticket. But the last seven elections were won by the CPI(M). This time around, CPI(M) is trying its best to retain the seat. Trinamool on the other hand is claiming that like in other seats in south Bengal the CPI(M) will be defeated here too.

Voters feel that sitting MLA and CPI(M) candidate, Amar Basu, faces a tough contest. CPI(M) workers are worried over about delimitation. Last time, Jamboni area, known as a CPI(M) stronghold, was part of the Jhargram constituency. But now, the area has been attached to Binpur seat.

On the other hand, Binpur 1 block (consisting of Lalgarh and Binpur police station areas) has been included in Jhargram. Besides, all 10 gram panchayats of Binpur 1 block, the Jhargram Municipality area and four gram panchayats — Radhanagar, Bandhgora, Manikpara and Sapdhara — in Jhargram block are part of the constituency. In the entire constituency, except Jhargram Municipality area, rebels have intensified their activities with the help of PCAPA.

Many police camps and CPI(M) offices have been attacked by rebels in areas such as Ramgarh, Lalgarh, Dharampur, Kantapahari, now part of the Jhargram constituency. The Gyaneshwari Express derailment, in which 149 passengers died, took place in Manikpara, which is part of the Jhargram constituency.

Though the rebels had been cornered in many areas they have a presence. Above all, the Netai killings by CPI(M) cadres has put the Left on a sticky wicket. Sukumar Hansda, the Trinamool candidate, has campaigned in Lalgarh and Netai, with leaders such as tamluk MP Suvendu Adhikary. Chhatradhar Mahato may get a share of the anti-Left votes.

If that happens, the CPI(M) will get an advantage. The BJP has also fielded Bijay Mahato, a popular folksinger who may further cut into anti-Left votes.

Samai Mandi, a resident of Lalgarh said, “In this area, people will give a fitting reply to the atrocities of CPI(M) cadres. We have seen no development during the CPI(M) regime. Development is the issue in this election.”

Binod Das of Dahijuri, however, felt that the CPI(M) will win again. Another voter, Arindam Dutta of Jhargram, said, “People have seen the murders and atrocities by Maoists. People will vote for Amar Basu.”

Realising the ground reality, the CPI(M) is harping on “ties between the Trinamool and Maoists” over the past two years. This campaign strategy has given dividend to the party in areas where popular resistance has crystallised against Maoists.

To counter this, the Trinamool is saying that railway minister, Mamata Banerjee, worked for development in the area and introduced new trains.