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TMC desperate to stop Cong’s Baharampur heavyweight Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury

Baharampur’s sitting MP and Congress heavyweight Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury has won the seat four consecutive times.

lok sabha elections Updated: Apr 28, 2019 11:44 IST
Lok Sabah elections 2019,General elections 2019,Lok Sabha election campaign 2019
Congress sitting MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury during a public rally at Baharampur town of Murshidabad district of West Bengal, India on Friday, April 26, 2019. (Samir Jana/HT PHOTO)

Bengal Congress heavyweight Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, who won with the highest margin of 3.56 lakh votes among the 44 Congress winners in the country in 2014 Lok Sabha polls, is fighting a battle for survival this time as he seeks a fifth straight term in Parliament from Baharampur.

Desperate to defeat this staunch critic of chief minister Mamata Banerjee, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) has fielded three-time MLA Apurba Sarkar who switched to Bengal’s ruling party from the Congress barely six months ago and who was one of Chowdhury’s most trusted lieutenants. Baharampur is among the eight Lok Sabha constituencies in Bengal which will go to the polls in the fourth phase of the seven-phase Lok Sabha elections on Monday.

“He has been your MP for years but what has he done except for criticising TMC? Give us a chance and I will give you whatever you want,” Mamata Banerjee told voters while addressing a public rally at Kandi to campaign for Sarkar earlier this month.

“People of Murshidabad (district) fear you. They keep silent for fear of getting killed,” she said in an obvious reference to Chowdhury, who served as Bengal Congress chief for five years and Union minister of state for railways during 2012-14.

The TMC’s desperation becomes evident from the fact that Banerjee has held three rallies within this one Lok Sabha constituency, while influential minister Suvendu Adhikari virtually camped here. The Congress had won four of the 42 Lok Sabah seats in Bengal in 2014 while the TMC won 34.

Acknowledging the 63-year-old Chowdhury’s importance in the anti-TMC, anti-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) space in Bengal, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is lending him full support. The BJP has fielded an apparent lightweight, Krishna Joardar, a sadhu of the Arya Samaj tradition in this seat.

Though Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP)(constituent of the Left Front in Bengal) has fielded a former MLA, other Left parties are supporting Chowdhury who is unfazed by the TMC’s high-voltage campaign.

“Mamata Banerjee has employed all her might, the administration and the police to defeat me. But this is not challenge enough for me. I would have liked it if she herself contested against me,” Chowdhury said while addressing a gathering in Baharampur town on April 26.

The Congress’ campaign agenda comprises criticism of the Modi government at the Centre and the TMC government in the state, besides telling people that Chowdhury will be a Union minister once again if the Congress comes to power at the Centre.

Urging people not to fear goons backed by the TMC, Chowdhury, who is often referred to as ‘Baharampur’s Robin Hood’, said, “I am a tough nut to crack. I will retire from politics if TMC manages to capture a single booth.”

Chowdhury marked his presence in Bengal politics by winning the 1996 Assembly election while being lodged in jail in connection with a murder. Three years later, he emerged as a giant killer by wresting the Baharampur Lok Sabha from the RSP, which had won the seat 11 out of the previous 12 times.

Since then, he has bettered his winning margin with every election and eventually became Murshidabad district’s most influential man.

Even in the 2016 Bengal Assembly elections, Congress candidates won in all seven Assembly segments that constitute Baharampur Lok Sabha. However, following TMC’s massive poaching drive, three of the seven Congress MLAs switched over to TMC, besides the majority of Congress members of various civic and rural bodies.

During campaigns, apart from highlighting the TMC government’s work and portraying TMC as the only party capable of taking on the BJP, TMC leaders have also resorted to personal attacks.

“Could his wife speak up overcoming her fear? Sadly, she is no more. He didn’t even mention his late wife’s name in his affidavit, can you imagine? How can one, who does not care for his family, care for Murshidabad?” Mamata Banerjee said from the dais of her rally at Kandi.

In another rally, Adhikari urged women not to vote for a person who separated from wife after nearly three decades’ marital life.

Chowdhury’s first wife Arpita, who had joined TMC in 2016 after their divorce case started, died in January this year. Her brother Arit Majumdar is presently TMC’s Baharampur sub-divisional unit chief.

Also read: Lok Sabha elections 2019- But for us, Bengal would not have got rid of Left misrule: Mamata

In April, in his affidavit submitted along with nomination paper, Chowdhury named his second wife, Atashi, and named her daughter Haimanti as his dependents.

The choice between Chowdhury and Mamata Banerjee has become a difficult one for a section of voters.

“There is no denying that the Mamata Banerjee government has done a lot of good things, especially for women, but Chowdhury’s contribution to Berhampore cannot be forgotten either,” said Ratan Pal, a paan stall owner in Baharampur town.

“TMC looted votes in the panchayat elections. People are waiting for a chance to vote against them,” said Karim Biswas, a farmer at Rejinagar, where TMC first poached Chowdhury-confidante Humayun Kabir. And when another Chowdhury-confidante Rabiul Alam Chowdhury defeated Kabir to become the MLA, the TMC poached him too.

According to psephologist Biswanath Chakraborty, Baharampur’s fate would largely depend on how people have taken TMC’s poaching drive and muscle-flexing during the 2018 panchayat elections.

In his affidavit, Chowdhury has studied up to tenth standard, declared total movable assets of Rs 1.21 crore and immovable assets worth Rs 8.91 crore which includes those in the name of his wife and daughter.

First Published: Apr 28, 2019 11:29 IST