A glamorous, National award-winning actress is pitted against a man who is a time-tested, all-weather son of the soil. As Raidighi in South 24-Parganas goes to the hustings on April 27, the duel between the incumbent CPI(M) minister for Sunderbans affairs Kanti Ganguly, who has won twice from the district, and veteran Tollywood queen Debasree Roy, newbie from the Trinamool Congress, promises to be a tough fight that will be worth watching all the way.
Ganguly won from Mathurapur constituency in 2006 and 2001, which after delimitation, has been configured in 2011 as the Raidighi. Ganguly is known to have stood by the people of his constituency and lent an active hand during relief work after the devastating Aila swept through the Sunderbans in 2009.
His opponent is in no mood to surrender though. "I have proof that relief did not reach those hit by Aila," counters Roy, about to embark on one of her last election meetings before campaigning closes on Monday. The actress is draped in a crisp cotton sari, two pugs (her pets) snuggling to her in the lobby of a private hotel at Diamond Harbour.
Outside, a group of local fishermen has gathered to take a look at the star but failed to secure a meeting with Didi's chosen candidate for Raidighi. Said Sanjay Das, a youngster engaged in fishing in the coastal area, "Debasree is good if you want to see change in the state government, but Kanti Ganguly is the best candidate for poor fishermen like us. We have many problems and he is our hero."
But there are roadblocks, which even Ganguly couldn't remove. There are villages where electricity hasn't reached, roads are not navigable and there is no drinking water. Ganguly cannot afford to be complacent, at least in the pockets where development has barely touched human life.
Roy, on her part, has to battle her own image of a star in transit who will walk away with votes and not bother to look after her constituency once she wins. Local CPI(M) workers have also dismissed Roy's campaign style as being full of gimmicks and stunts.
"I can sing, I can dance. I can also fight for the rights of the people. Didi asked me to make the Sunderbans sundar (beautiful). I will create jobs so that you don't have to step outside Raidighi in search of employment. I will change Raidighi in five years," said Roy to a crowd of 20,000 at Raidighi on Friday evening, Bollywood singer Bappi Lahiri by her side.
As the duo held hands and the latter sang, the audience roared in approval. Roy has been lavishing celebrities on the people of her constituency. On Sunday, it was the turn of yesteryear actress Sandhya Roy to pitch for parivartan at Mathurapur.
It is not certain though if all this will translate into votes on April 27. "It's a 50:50 situation. Either could win," said Manash Kumar Ray, a local businessman.
There were promises that Roy made on stage - extension of the railway line between Joynagar and Raidighi, a model hospital, development of a tourist centre at Raidighi, drinking water, more jobs for people by setting up new manufacturing units. But for each "promise", her more seasoned political opponent spoke about his achievements in the area, and there were statistics to match as well.
"If you talk of the roads, I have done 90% of the job. As for power supply, 50% of the villages have electricity and the average figure for rural West Bengal is no better," he said.
Ganguly said he has set up seven cold storages, two rice mills and four petrol pumps. As for developing a tourist centre at Raidighi, Ganguly said that since the mangrove forests and tigers were far from Raidighi, there wasn't much that he could do. "I think the voters have made up their minds. I can't prove anything now," he said.
As one drove down further South, one saw Ganguly's face beaming from posters on the walls of mud huts thatched with straw roofs. There were allegations that his political rival was travelling in air-conditioned cars and not walking on the muddy village tracks. "I can't cover such a huge constituency on foot, can I?" she said to her audience, almost apologetically.