The fifth phase of polling on Saturday would mark the first time in three decades of Left rule that Opposition forces will be seen fielding polling agents in all polling booths of the sensitive Keshpur assembly constituency.
The road this far has been strewn with political upheavals and a trail of blood. Keshpur, from where Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee had first plotted the beginning of the endgame for the Left in 2001, following a protracted spell of violence since 1998, has long been held among the Red bastions across the state.
In the 2001 assembly polls, CPI(M)’s Nanda Rani Dal wrested the seat by a record margin of 1,08,112 votes. Trinamool nominee Rajanikanta Doloi, who previously contested the seat five times on the trot — in 1962, 1967, 1969, 1971 and 1977— bagged only 12,454 votes as against Dal’s 1,20,566.
However, there was a partial meltdown in vote share in 2006, when CPI(M)’s Rameshwar Doloi defeated Trinamool’s Ashis Pramanik by 66,166 votes. But the tide turned once again in the 2009 general elections, when the CPI(M) opened out a lead of 62,000 votes over the Opposition, securing 83% of the votes polled.
In the assembly polls of 2001 and 2006, the CPI(M) even secured a staggering 99% and 100% of the votes polled in several booths while there were no polling agents of the Opposition nominees. Given the recent political history, there is a sense that all claims of the Opposition wresting this seat is but a distant dream.
Rajanikanta Doloi, who is contesting on a Congress ticket this year, said: “It won’t be a distant dream if the polling is fair and voters manage to exercise their franchise without fear. The Left’s mammoth margin earlier had been the result of rampant rigging and a spell of terror. However, this time the people are not with them.”
In a marked departure from the past, the Opposition supporters this time have been campaigning freely across the constituency. The CPI(M) claims this as proof of the “democratic ambience” under its reign since “liberating Keshpur from Trinamool-sponsored terror” in 2001. “Everybody can see how democratic the ambience here is. The Opposition candidates have been campaigning freely everywhere without any disruptions or obstructions, even as the locals here hate them deep down,” said Rameshwar Doloi, the CPI(M) nominee.
He conceded that the Left might not repeat its vote share of the parliamentary polls this time. “General elections are different. They are contested on issues markedly different from the assembly polls.” But the Left hopes to retain the polling percentage of 2006, when it bagged 71% of the votes and won.