Polarisation marks campaign in Krishnanagar as Moitra battles to return to LS | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Polarisation marks campaign in Krishnanagar as Moitra battles to return to LS

May 11, 2024 01:20 PM IST

Ranaghat, which is reserved for the scheduled caste community, was wrested by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2019 by a margin of a whopping 2.33 million and a vote share of 52.78%

Chapra: Homemaker Sushama Sarkar admitted without hesitation she did not know why Mahua Moitra was expelled from the Lok Sabha last year even as she watched the firebrand Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader address a crowd of around 200 people at a roadside meeting near Gatra High School in the Chapra area of Krishnanagar constituency on Wednesday afternoon.

TMC’s Mahua Moitra campaigns for Lok Sabha polls in Nadia (HT Photo)
TMC’s Mahua Moitra campaigns for Lok Sabha polls in Nadia (HT Photo)

 A heavy shower had just lashed parts of this Nadia Lok Sabha constituency, which goes to the polls on May 13, along with seven other West Bengal seats. Three of these seats are located in Murshidabad and Naida districts that stand along the Bangladesh border, where charges of infiltration are an issue raised by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).   

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 “For me, this is a fight for honour. Only you have the power to stop me from returning to Parliament, not [Prime Minister] Narendra Modi,” Moitra told the audience, alleging that the inquiry - ordered by the Lok Sabha Speaker after BJP accused her of compromising national security by sharing her Parliament account password with an outsider - made her go through humiliation and insult.

Standing under the shed of a tea stall, almost 40 metres away from the crowd, 27-year-old Sarkar said: “This village has been voting for the BJP since the 2018 panchayat polls. Most of the families living here are Hindu.”

The ground reality was not hidden from Moitra who won from Krishnanagar in 2019 defeating her nearest BJP rival by 63,218 votes, not a big margin in a Lok Sabha segment having around 1.6 million voters. 

“This Bagberia panchayat region is the only place where TMC did not get a lead over BJP in the 2018 panchayat, 2019 Lok Sabha and the 2021 assembly elections. Will you vote differently on May 13? What has the BJP done with your support? [chief minister] Mamata Banerjee has ensured all the development. The BJP candidate is visiting only Hindu-dominated areas, while the CPI(M) [Communist Party of India Marxist] nominee is going to Muslim communities. Tomorrow, I will be completing my tour of all 82 panchayat areas in Krishnanagar constituency. TMC does not spew the communal venom,” Moitra told the crowd.

Anybody might wonder why TMC at all needs the support of nine small villages that comprise Bagberia gram panchayat when it could win six of the seven assembly segments in the Krishnanagar Lok Sabha seat in 2021, losing only one to TMC’s Mukul Roy, who was then in BJP.

The answer lies in the numbers.

Bengal’s projected population in 2021 stood at 101.9 million. During the last 2011 census, the Hindu population stood at 70.54%, while Muslims comprised 27.01%. In Nadia district, which has a population of 5.17 million according to the 2011 census, Hindus and Muslims comprise 72.15% and 26.76%, respectively. 

The district has two Lok Sabha seats – Krishnanagar and Ranaghat. Ranaghat, which is reserved for the scheduled caste community, was wrested by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2019 by a margin of a whopping 2.33 million and a vote share of 52.78%. 

In the Krishnanagar parliamentary segment, the TMC won Tehatta, Palashipara, Kaliganj, Nakashipara, Chapra and Krishnanagar South assembly seats in the 2021 assembly polls with an overall vote share of 45.8 %.

TMC leader Mukul Roy, who joined the saffron camp in 2017 and returned to the ruling party’s fold in 2021 without resigning from the BJP, won the Krishnanagar North seat on a BJP ticket. Even as the BJP could capture only one assembly segment in Krishnanagar, its overall vote share in 2021 reached 37.8%, up from only 9% in 2016 and 6% in 2011. 

The Chapra assembly segment, with around 0.24 million voters, can be randomly picked up to explain the shift in figures. 

TMC’s Rukbanur Rahaman has been winning from Chapra since 2011 but the BJP has steadily increased its votes, from 7,078 in 2011 to 58,168 in 2021. The CPI(M), which won this seat consecutively from 1977 to 2006, secured 76,000 votes even in 2016 but its tally dropped to 11,722 in 2021. 

The reason, all parties admit, is the BJP’s popularity among the Kishnanagar Lok Sabha segment’s scheduled caste community, which comprises around 30% of the population. A sizeable section of these people belongs to the Namasudra and Matua communities that entered Nadia as refugees from Bangladesh after 1947 and the 1971 Liberation War.

Enforced in March this year, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) has been placed before these voters as the BJP’s prized electoral promise.

TMC chairperson Mamata Banerjee, on the other hand, has projected CAA as a threat to both Hindus and Muslims saying it is a precursor to enforcement of National Register of Citizens (NRC) which left 1.9 million Hindus in jeopardy in BJP-ruled Assam in 2018 and the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) on which Uttarakhand passed a law in February. 

CPI(M)’s S M Saadi, who fought the TMC wave and won the Palashipara assembly seat in 2011, has been pitted against Moitra.

In the 2021 state polls, Saadi came third at Palashipara because the BJP increased its vote share by more than 21% over its 2016 performance.

“Saadi is getting a good response from voters in Muslim-dominated areas. He may not win but his presence may make a dent in the TMC’s minority vote bank. That may help BJP,” Ataur Sheikh, a trader from Chapra, said.

Moitra dismisses such arguments.

“This is an election to oust the BJP government at the Centre. Why will any citizen waste a vote? BJP reaped the benefits of its polarisation tactics in 2019 by winning 18 of Bengal’s 42 Lok Sabha seats. The 2021 assembly results proved its popularity is on the decline,” said Moitra.

In 2019, the BJP set a record by winning 18 of Bengal’s 42 Lok Sabha seats. However, in 2021, it targeted 200 of the state’s 294 assembly seats but could win only 77. Most of these 77 seats are located in the districts bordering Bangladesh and the tribal belts in the western parts of Bengal. 

Saadi argued that he is reaching out to all voters, irrespective of their religious background, with the message to defeat both the TMC and the BJP.

“TMC symbolises corruption, and so does the BJP. People at the grassroots want employment. Both Narendra Modi and Mamata Banerjee are asking people not to vote for Left and Congress. This alone makes it apparent who their common enemy is,” said Saadi.

Weeks after Moitra was nominated by Banerjee, the BJP sprung a surprise by fielding Amrita Roy, a member of the erstwhile royal family of Krishnanagar. The party is referring to her as Rajmata (queen mother) in its campaign with TMC mocking her for being projected as royalty in the 21st century. 

PM Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah have both campaigned for Roy who has no experience in politics.

Rajarshi Lahiri, a Bengal BJP spokesperson overseeing Roy’s campaign, said, “Moitra always depended on Muslim voters from Chapra, Palashipara, Nakashipara and Kaliganj assembly segments but did nothing for them. A huge section of these people will vote for BJP. The CPI(M)’s main target is to cut a slice from the votes cast by Hindus and do damage to the BJP. No matter how many times Mamata Banerjee may claim to have no alliance with Congress and Left in Bengal, the INDIA coalition does exist.”

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