With a towel on his head, walking through village after village is Manas Ranjan Bhuniya, president of West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee and candidate for Sabong as defending MLA. Along him as a show of alliance brotherhood, Trinamool workers were seen matching steps.
Yet, the constituency, a prestige seat for Congress, is one of the glaring instances of how fragile the alliance lines are. Bhuniya has not only CPI(M) to think of as opponent but also SUCI, an ally of Trinamool that has pitted a candidate against him.
“I will win. The people of Sabong know me and the work I have done. I delivered for them and will continue to deliver. Our alliance will drive the CPI(M) away,” said Bhuniya.
Apart from the wave of change, the balance is tilted in favour of Bhuniya, who in his last tenure has worked for tackling flood in the area, which made him popular.
However, it will not be a cakewalk for Bhuniya. In Lok Sabha elections, Left Front got a lead of 6,164 votes from Sabong assembly constituency. After delimitation, the constituency comprises the entire Sabong block and three gram panchayats of Pingla block, including Talchak 1, 2 and Maligram panchayat.
In 2006, Bhuniya won the Sabong assembly seat defeating his nearest rival Tushar Kanti Laya of CPI(M), who was ahead by 397 votes in 2001. A re-election was ordered by Calcutta high court and Bhuniya won it. Makhan Lal Bangal, an Independent candidate, defeated Bhuniya in 1996. Bhuniya defeated Gouranga Samanta of CPI(M) in 1991, Hare Krishna Samanta of CPI(M) in 1987 and Hemanta Kumar Jana, Independent, in 1982. Gouranga Samanta of Bharater Biplabi Congress Party defeated Surya Kanta Mahapatra of Janata Party in 1977.
This time, apart from Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, AICC-in-charge of Bengal Shakeel Ahmed and former Indian skipper Mohd Azharuddin not only conducted road shows but also attended public meetings in favour of Bhuniya. For Congress, this is a prestige seat.
“The CPI(M) had a lead here in the Lok Sabha elections. Bhuniya may be the Congress president in the state but in Sabang he has lost the trust of the people. We will win from Sabong,” said Ramapada Sahu of the CPI(M). This time, the Left is also trying hard to add this seat.
Interestingly, in the 2006 assembly polls, Bhuniya got 49.7% votes, whereas CPI(M) got 45% and Trinamool 3.5%.
For the SUCI candidate, the fight is against both CPI(M) and the Congress. “Every time Congress and CPI(M) leaders give a series of promises but fail to deliver. We may be an ally of Trinamool but we are not an ally of the Congress. I do not know whether I will win or lose, but I will highlight the genuine grievances of the people. We have around 3% voteshare here,” said Narayan Adhikary, SUCI candidate from the constituency.
Agriculture if the main profession of the people of Sabong. Some also make mattresses. The constituency is known for its household mattress industry, popular throughout the country.
The main problem for the people is the floods, as every year crops and human lives are lost due to it. Significantly, Bhuniya has worked on tackling floods. Whether that will translate into a flood of support remains to be seen.