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Family drama add punch to North Bengal contest

Deepa says, "The main national fight is between Congress and BJP. Muslims will back us because we are in the best position to form the government in Delhi to stop BJP."

india Updated: Mar 28, 2014 17:23 IST
Prashant Jha

At Rasakhowa in Raiganj in north Bengal, Congress flags and banners are sprinkled through the bazaar. A local party conference for workers is underway, as a part of the campaign to re-elect Deepa Dasmunsi, minister of state for Urban development and one of chief minister Mamata Banerjee's fiercest critics.

Stepping away from the stage, the Congress leader says, "Infrastructure and industry are the biggest issues here. There is only one spinning mill, which is about to be shut down. People migrate for jobs. That is my core agenda."

When asked what she achieved in the past five years, Deepa highlights rural electrification, rural road connectivity, and blames the state government for stalling key projects like opening an AIIMS campus.

She is carrying forward the political legacy of her husband, one of Congress' tallest leaders in the state, Priya Ranjan Das Munsi, who has been ailing in a Delhi hospital for several years now. But her claim is now challenged by a family insider. Priya's brother Satya Ranjan is the TMC's candidate for the seat.

When asked if she was hurt by the move, Deepa said, "It is a democracy. He has every right to be in any party. But he has never been in politics. TMC is only using him because he has the Dasmunsi name."

The bitterness in her camp is palpable though. One aide said, "In January, Satya had a heart-attack. Bhabhi took care of him, paid for his hospital expenses. Priyo Da would have been so sad."

But the family quarrel is only one element of what is a gripping and larger political drama. North Bengal has been a Congress stronghold, and when they were partners, TMC had left these seats for the mother party. But after the alliance broke, Trinamool is working hard to make inroads into the north. Satya's nomination is a shrewd move in that direction.

The outcome here will reflect whether Congress still has its traditional base intact or whether TMC has eaten into it. It will also show whether in multi-cornered contests, the anti-left vote gets fragmented, opening up the space for a CPM comeback.

This is what happened in the Zila Parishad elections last year, where the CPM benefited from the Congress-TMC gulf. And this is what the party leader and candidate, Mohammed Salim, is banking on. He told HT, "Both Congress and TMC are blaming each other for their failure to deliver. This is an admission they have not met their promises."

The subtext of the political campaign here is the battle for the Muslims, who comprise over 45 percent of the population. Deepa says, "The main national fight is between Congress and BJP. Muslims will back us because we are in the best position to form the government in Delhi to stop BJP."

But Salim rubbishes the claim. "Traditionally, Muslims were divided between Congress and CPM. Now Congress is declining, and Trinamool is trying to win Muslim votes. One reason I have come here is to ensure that we can retain and get them back. People can see Congress has failed to stop Modi's rise."

In this triangular contest, who cuts in whose votes, which way the Muslim voters swing predominantly, and the organisational strength of the respective parties will determine the next MP from Raiganj.