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Babu takes on ex-boss

Unlike his predecessors, legendary physician Bidhan Chandra Roy, renowned barrister Siddhartha Shankar Ray and Marxist icon Jyoti Basu, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee needed time to build an identity for himself when he became the chief minister in 2000. Tanmay Chatterjee reports.

india Updated: Apr 27, 2011 15:35 IST
Tanmay Chatterjee

Unlike his predecessors, legendary physician Bidhan Chandra Roy, renowned barrister Siddhartha Shankar Ray and Marxist icon Jyoti Basu, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee needed time to build an identity for himself when he became the chief minister in 2000.

Bengal's farmers only know mass leaders and Bhattacharjee was no Harekrishna Konar by any standard. On the other hand, educated urban Bengalis were curious to know whether he shared the passion of his uncle, Sukanta Bhattacharya, a revolutionary poet who died young but redefined hunger and poverty.

During his first stint as chief minister, Bhattacharjee successfully projected his cultured Bangali bhadralok image from his tiny sarkari flat at Palm Avenue. But after the landslide victory in 2006, Singur and Nandigram threw him and the CPI(M) into unpredictably choppy waters.

On Wednesday, Bhattacharjee will be putting to test all that he has achieved and whatever he lost in these 10 years. Ironically, a jury that has stood by him since 1987 will pass the mandate. And, that is precisely why the arithmetic of electoral politics appears to be too difficult to crack till the results are out. It was in 1984 that the people of Jadavpur replaced their maverick MP Somnath Chatterjee with a newcomer called Mamata Banerjee.

This time, the same Mamata Banerjee wanted to drive a Trojan horse into Jadavpur by fielding retired IAS officer Manish Gupta, the man who served as home secretary when Basu was chief minister and Bhattacharjee was in charge of the police department, and later retired as chief secretary.

Every time Gupta walked to their doorsteps during campaign, the first thing that struck voters was that he is the man who knows everything about an administration that has now come under question for acquiring fertile land from farmers and emptying the state's coffers.

While addressing public meetings, Gupta did not speak much and let his foot soldiers do the talking. Trinamool workers addressed him as "Sir," the reverence he got used to as a bureaucrat. The Trinamool chief herself went campaigning for Gupta, holding his hand high in the air during every photo opportunity. "This gesture," said Patuli resident Amal Chakraborty, "added credence to the candidature of Gupta, who was home secretary when Banerjee was arrested during a wildcat dharna outside Jyoti Basu's chamber at Writers' Buildings in 1992 and when 13 Youth Congress supporters were shot in police during an agitation the Trinamool chief was leading on July 21, 1993."

Chakraborty, a retired government servant, is happy with the development that has taken place in and around Patuli, a growing township in the chief minister's constituency that somehow resembles Salt Lake and Rajarhat.

But the euphoria does not persist when you ask some residents about the local CPI(M). Grievances abound against Chandana Ghosh Dastidar, councillor of ward 110 (earlier she was councillor of ward 101) and her husband, Khokon Ghosh Dastidar used to be Bhattacharjee's principal election manager till 2006 but the CPI(M) thought it prudent to field former mayor Bikash Bhattacharyya as the chief minister's official election agent.

To do his bit, the chief minister wheeled into every neighbourhood and held at least 50 meetings to counter Gupta who chose to walk the same distance, and maybe more, to get closer to voters, some of who still think of him as an outsider with no experience in politics.

Coming to the arithmetic, the last Lok Sabha and civic polls have cast a shadow on Jadavpur. When a newcomer like Kabir Suman, singer-turned-Trinamool candidate, wrested the Jadavpur Lok Sabha seat from CPI(M)'s Sujan Chakraborty in 2009, it was a bolt from the blue for the mandarins at Alimuddin Street. Analysis of results showed that in the Jadavpur assembly segment the CPI(M)'s margin of victory had come down by almost 40,000 votes since the 2006 results. Then came the civic polls. Of the 10 wards in the Jadavpur assembly segment, six went to the kitty of Banerjee.

If the chief minister wins, it will be solely because he is a man who his sincere and admits his mistakes. Bhattacharjee himself is aware of the stark reality. "In politics 2 and 2 does not always add up to 4. Sometimes it can be 3, sometimes 5," he said at his last news conference and chose to remain mum on the man who served under him once and now poses to be his nemesis. "It is not important who I am contesting. I stand for an ideology and our fight is against a party that does not represent any ideology," he claimed.

Gupta, too, said no word against the chief minister. "I am not a bureaucrat anymore. Now I am free. So I opted to represent a party that has given the call for better governance."