In Barrackpore, TMC MP faces close contest with BJP’s ‘Bahubali’
Barely 45 km from Kolkata, Hanuman Bag can be passed off as a neighborhood in some town in the Hindi heartland.
Temples, of varying sizes and standing within 50 to 100 feet of each other, wear fresh coats of paint. Saffron flags seen at Hindu shrines outnumber those displaying the BJP’s lotus symbol. And, Prime Minister Narendra Modi can be seen smiling from posters hung in every nook and corner of this area in the Jagaddal assembly segment. This segment may play a crucial role for the BJP in the Barrackpore Lok Sabha election on May 6.
Five days after Hanuman Bag was rocked by the sound of bombs and guns, central armed forces outnumbered civilians on the streets. “Goons backed by the Trinamool Congress (TMC) have made us their target. We don’t know whether we will be allowed to vote,” said Baliram, a local youth and member of the Yadav community that comprises a large chunk of the voters.
“On the evening of April 30, TMC leader Madan Mitra, who is contesting the Bhatpara assembly seat that I vacated, was addressing a rally at Hanuman Bag when his men objected to the ringing of bells at a temple. They attacked four houses. The ruling party is playing the communal card to polarize voters,” said Arjun Singh, BJP’s Lok Sabha candidate from Barrackpore and four-time former Bhatpara MLA for whom Modi campaigned on April 29.
The dais erected for Mitra was set on fire by BJP supporters. Around 70 people were rounded up and many were arrested.
“I was present there till midnight. Had the police not acted promptly, the situation would have gone out of control,” said Trinamool candidate Dinesh Trivedi, who won the seat by 56,000 votes in 2009 and more than 2,00,000 in 2014.
“He (Singh) is a mafia. As long as he was with TMC, we kept him under control. He started working for BJP way back in 2014. I am not doing anything to counter these communal politics. People know he is a criminal,” Trivedi added.
Singh, who switched sides shortly before election dates were announced, is seen as a bahubali (strongman) by Hindi-speaking voters and migrant laborers from Bihar, whose forefathers settled in the industrial belts that dot the assembly segments of Bijpur, Naihati, Bhatpara, Jagaddal, Noapara, and Barrackpore.
Though many units have shut down, these areas still have small and medium industries, jute mills and factories of the Ordnance Factory Board. Only Amdanga, the seventh assembly segment, is mostly rural.
“TMC made the police register criminal cases against my son on April 17. In the past, they filed cases against my daughters who are married. Criminals who fled the area during my tenure as MLA have returned. Didi (Mamata Banerjee) is behind all this,” said Singh.
“It is a fact that many Trinamool workers who became inactive in the last five years because of infighting are back on the streets,” Dilip Shaw, a resident of Kankinara and migrant from Bihar, said. Clashes between BJP and TMC supporters were reported at Halisahar and Titagarh on Saturday as well.
Singh is believed to have played a key role in Trivedi’s victory in the last elections. To keep BJP under pressure, Banerjee has so far held three rallies in Barrackpore. At every rally, she called Singh a “gaddar” (traitor).
To corner Singh, TMC removed him from the post of Bhatpara municipality chairman on April 6 and fielded Saradha scam-tainted former minister Madan Mitra as a candidate for the Bhatpara assembly by-poll that is being held to find Singh’s replacement.
Barrackpore has 14,28,897 voters and 1567 polling stations.