Ramkrishna Layek, 42, a farmer at Baligori area of Tarakeswar, is bitterly upset and annoyed with the Left Front regime. A former Left loyalist, Layek had been left counting his losses owing to low returns from his potato produce last year. He saw a ray of hope when the state government declared that it would procure potato directly from farmers at Rs175 per 50kg pack, but felt betrayed thereafter with the remaining four 50kg packs of his potato produce going unsold even two months after the state declaration. He was eventually forced to sell off his unsold potatoes to a local cold storage for a measly Rs100 per pack.
Layek later learned from media reports that the funds allotted to the agriculture cooperatives were used to buy potato from cold storage owners as opposed to the farmers. “This has happened to several potato growers in our locality. We’ll give the Leftists a fitting reply in the polls,” said Layek.
Contesting from the Tarakehwar assembly seat for the fourth time, fire and emergency services minister Pratim Chatterjee is aware of a tough fight this time even as he does the rounds of his constituency and mingles freely with the locals.
While not apparent from his amiable disposition, the veteran Marxist Forward Bloc leader, who had a brush with the big screen in Tollywood, is a tough man who has been known to carry a licensed firearm even to the state secretariat at Writers’ Buildings.
But in what is being seen as the ruling Left Front’s toughest poll test yet, Chatterjee knows he can ill afford to relax till the polling is done and dusted.
Despite the prevailing anti-incumbency wave sweeping the state, Chatterjee remains upbeat about a positive harvest. “The Opposition’s lead over us in the civic polls is not beyond reach. I am confident that given the work I have done for the town area during my tenure as an MLA, even those who didn’t vote for Left in the civic polls, would vote for me,” said the Left leader. His confidence in part stems from the Left’s rural vote bank, which continues to remain intact.
Former IPS officer, Rachpal Singh, who is also the Trinamool’s Congress’s Hooghly district observer, is pitted against the veteran Left leader and is expected to pose a stiff challenge to the Left’s well- oiled poll machinery.
Singh, who was known to harbour close ties with former chief minister Jyoti Basu during his tenure as a government servant, is also confident of securing his maiden stint in the assembly from this seat, which so far has elected only Forward Bloc candidates since 1967.
Chatterjee has more reasons to worry. This former Red bastion has shown several perceptible signs of “change” over the past two years. Since winning the assembly seat by 30000 votes in 2006, the Left also took control of 13 of the 15 gram panchayats in Tarakeswar. However, its lead over the opposition came down sharply to 17,600 votes in the 2009 parliamentary elections.
In the civic polls that followed a year later, Trinamool wrested the Tarakeswar municipal body for the first time, winning 10 of the 15 seats. Again, Tarakeswar College, which for long had seen a monopoly of the Left backed Students’ Federation of India, has had a change of guard since.
In a marked departure from the days of yore in Tarakeswar, Trinamool flags have found a pride of place amid the sea of scarlet of the Left. “The Left’s lead of over 17,000 votes in the general elections is a thing of the past. The scene is a lot different now and our win is only a matter of time,” said Singh.