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Bengal’s heartland votes

kolkata Updated: Apr 27, 2011 02:52 IST
Rajesh Mahapatra
Rajesh Mahapatra
Hindustan Times
Rajesh Mahapatra

With 75 seats and 14.5 million voters, Thursday’s is the biggest round of polling in Bengal. But the spotlight is on three Left leaders and their not-so-political rivals, who may emerge giant killers.

Jadavpur, South kolkata
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee vs Manish Gupta

Until now, the party has won every election for him since 1987. This time, however, it’s the image and appeal of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee that may, if at all, salvage the situation in Jadavpur. And giving him a tough fight here is a former aide — Manish Gupta — who served under him and his predecessor, Jyoti Basu, as Bengal chief secretary.

A career bureaucrat, Gupta appears to have embraced his new role with ease, and good results. He has forced Bhattacharjee to abandon campaigning in other parts of the state and focus on Jadavpur instead.

"In the past, he would never hold so many meetings, because he never had such opposition," said Kartik Shao, a 76-year-old grocer.

Bhattacharjee has held more than 40 meetings and several roadshows to counter the groundswell of support around Gupta. The Trinamool candidate knows he can’t match the oratorical skills of his former boss, so he prefers padyatras and short speeches, asking people to vote for change. He has walked more than 400 km through the lanes and by-lanes of Jadavpur since becoming a candidate.

Dumdum, North Kolkata
Gautam Deb vs Bratya Basu

It has been a Left stronghold for many decades, but the CPM always fielded a new face. This time too, it has a new candidate — Gautam Deb, the poster boy of the Left Front.

Deb, the housing minister in the outgoing government, moved to Dum Dum after his constituency was done away with because of delimitation. If Deb loses, it will be a huge setback for the Left, because he has lately emerged as a leader who has brought aggression to the anti-Mamata campaign. He has also succeeded in reviving the morale of party workers and is seen as a leader who can steer CPM through the current crisis.

He has a tough task, though. "While the old people may still side with the CPM, young voters in Dum Dum are increasingly switching to Trinamool," said Sarthak Bhaumik, a school teacher and local resident.

As for Mamata, she has put her weight behind Bratya Basu — a well-known theatre artist who joined Trinamool after the Nandigram agitation in 2007. Last week, the Trinamool leader got Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to address a rally in Dum Dum.

Khardah, North Kolkata
Asim Dasgupta vs Amit Mitra

Because there were factories, there came trade unions, and the CPM. Then the factories started shutting down, shattering dreams of not just local residents but thousands who migrated from neighbouring states. Still the party continued to win as they hoped their MLA — Asim Dasgupta, finance minister of West Bengal since 1987 — was their best bet.
No longer.

“I was a CPM supporter, but got nothing in return. My brother never got a job, not did my mother get her old age pension. So, I switched camp a year ago,” said Sankar Majumdar, who pulls a rickshaw for a living.

Others complain that Dasgupta rarely visits his constituency and is not accessible. CPM insiders concede that the seat may go to the Trinamool, even though it has fielded Amit Mitra, who is not just new to politics but also to Kolkata.

"We are voting for Didi. It doesn’t matter who the candidate is," said a voter, underscoring why the New Delhi-based business lobbyist could still win on his political debut.