BJP, TMC in close contest in Bengal’s biggest industrial and mining belt
- During her last campaign in Durgapur on Friday, chief minister Mamata Banerjee drew the attention of local industry workers, saying they would lose jobs because of the Centre’s disinvestment policy.
At West Bengal’s biggest industrial and coal mining zone in West Burdwan district, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Trinamool Congress (TMC) are locked in a close contest at nine assembly constituencies where factory workers and coal mine labourers constitute a sizeable section of voters.
Polls in this region will be held in the seventh phase on April 26 amid a sharp spike in coronavirus infections. On Saturday, 14,281 people were infected in the state and West Burdwan accounted for 376 of these cases. As many as 59 people died in Bengal on a single day.
Before campaigning ended on Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union home minister Amit Shah, BJP’s star campaigner, actor Mithun Chakraborty, and others held more than a dozen rallies and roadshows in these constituencies.
Hindi-speaking people live in large numbers in several pockets of Asansol North, Asansol South, Durgapur East, Durgapur West, Pandabeswar, Jamuria, Barabani, Kulti and Raniganj constituencies.
“BJP was ahead of the TMC in all these constituencies in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. We have a bright chance of winning,” said BJP state general secretary Sayantan Basu.
The region is home to the state’s biggest manufacturing industries such as Indian Iron and Steel Company, Durgapur Steel Plant, Durgapur Alloy Steel Plant, Durgapur Chemicals Ltd, Durgapur Thermal Power Station, Chittaranjan Locomotive Works, Hindustan Cables Ltd and Durgapur Fertilizer Project. Eastern Coalfields Limited, an arm of Coal India, is based in West Burdwan. There are a few hundred small and micro industries as well.
During her last campaign in Durgapur on Friday, chief minister Mamata Banerjee drew the attention of local industry workers, saying they would lose jobs because of the Centre’s disinvestment policy.
Among some of the prominent candidates in the fray are Bengal BJP’s Mahila Morcha (women’s front) president and noted fashion designer Agnimitra Paul and TMC candidate and popular actress Saayoni Ghosh at Asansol South, Jawaharlal Nehru University students’ union president Aishe Ghosh of the CPI (M) at Jamuria and the TMC’s former Asansol mayor Jitendra Tiwari who joined the BJP on March 2 to contest the Pandabeswar seat that he won in 2016.
Also in the race is former army colonel Diptangshu Chowdhury, who once left the BJP and joined the TMC but returned to the saffron camp in December last year. Chowdhury is contesting the Durgapur East seat.
Asansol South is part of the Asansol Lok Sabha seat that Union minister Babul Supriyo won in 2014 and 2019. BJP has fielded Supriyo from the Tollygunge assembly seat in south Kolkata in the ongoing polls. Paul, whose father is a well-known doctor in Asansol, said, “Living conditions are pathetic in some parts of this constituency. People are definitely going to vote for the BJP’s development model.”
As an actress, Ghosh was recently trolled by BJP supporters for a controversial social media post but the experience did not deter her from making a debut in politics. “Tapas Banerjee, who represented this seat, carried out development projects. My job will be to take that forward,” said Ghosh.
Many voters feel that the battle between the BJP and TMC will be a tough one especially because turnout of urban voters is likely to be low on Monday in the wake of the pandemic.
“The coronavirus will play a major role in the seventh phase. Low polling can make things difficult for all parties,” said Kanailal Chatterjee, a retired state government employee based in Asansol town.
At Pandabeswar, Tiwari initially faced opposition from BJP workers because he was their main adversary for years.
“I understand their grievance. As the sitting lawmaker I did my best for Pandabeswar and now my agenda is to set up industries so that unemployment, the main issue, is addressed. I am sure people will appreciate my efforts,” said Tiwari.
His main adversary, TMC’s Narendranath Chakraborty, is a son of the soil and also considered a formidable leader. “Tiwari cannot claim credit for developmental projects Mamata Banerjee took up. He is a traitor,” said Chakraborty.
At Jamuria, Aishe Ghosh is contesting for the Sanjukta Morcha or United Front of the CPI (M), Congress and cleric Abbasuddin Siddiqui’s Indian Secular Front.
The fact that 22% voters in Jamuria are Muslims and CPI (M)’s Jahanara Khan, a popular female leader, won the seat in 2011 and 2016 can give Ghosh an edge over her adversaries, Hareram Singh of the TMC and the BJP’s Tapas Roy, feel Left leaders. TMC leaders, including Singh, however, apprehend that Left voters will choose between the ruling party and the BJP.