In the wake of the violence that accompanied the desecration of Vidyasagar bust at the college named after him, the contestants’ fortunes in this electoral battle are likely to undergo a sea change in Kolkata North, which is a complex web of caste, religion, language and intra-party politics.
BJP’s national president Amit Shah’s grand rally was meant to enthuse the party rank and file but the indignation over the incident cutting across party lines threatens to defuse the potential undercurrent that was supposed to be working in the BJP’s favour.
The Trinamool, which is banking on the Bengali-speaking population of the area has started propaganda against the BJP of destroying the state’s culture while the latter, which is banking on the 38 per cent Hindi speaking population is campaigning against Trinamool for using it as a scapegoat.
Despite being an MP thrice and a popular face in the area, veteran politician Sudip Bandopadhyay would not have a cakewalk this time.
The Hindi speaking population of the seven Assembly constituencies in Burrabazar, Jorasanko, Cossipore, Chowringhee and Beliaghata areas has made Trinamool cautious in handling the area delicately.
BJP had been given a lead of more than 17,000 votes from Jorasankho segment in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, Mr Bandypadhyay won Kolkata North with a margin of 1.10 lakh votes, which dropped to 96,000 in 2014. Rahul Sinha, who was BJP’s candidate in 2014 and the second highest vote-getter, is in the fray again.
Infighting in the Trinamool has surfaced in the form of some of the activists being less than enthusiastic in campaigning for the veteran Bandopadhyay.
Trinamool leadership is leaving no stone unturned to plug this loophole, though it appears to be racing against time especially after the campaign period was curtailed by a day following EC directive.
The party is banking on the charisma of Mamata Banerjee. The party is also hoping that its old rival CPI-M would retain its vote share lest some of it is transferred to the saffron camp, tilting the scale in the latter’s favour.
In 2014, BJP saw a sharp rise with its vote share rising by 21.66 per cent while those of both Trinamool’s and Left’s came down by 17 and 19.5 per cent respectively.
Trinamool, however, managed to increase its cumulative vote shares in the seven constituencies in the 2016 Assembly polls to 50.27 per cent.
Speaking about his chances of getting re-elected, Mr Bandopadhyay said that he has also been a four-time MLA from this place.
“People here know about my track record. I have always been beside them. I don’t think I need to say anything to the people of this place. I defeated Rahul Sinha in 2014, he contested against Smita Bakshi in Assembly polls and lost to her. The fight here is for the second and the third positions,” said Mr Bandopadhyay.
On the other hand, BJP, which is putting up a tough fight and is expecting to raise its vote share substantially, has found an unexpected ally in the CPIM’s supporters, who are helping at the grassroots level.
Lacking the organisational machinery, the party is searching for help from the foot soldiers of the CPIM, who allegedly have been engaged for managing polling booths and campaigning for the saffron camp’s candidate.
“I am always with the people and they know they can depend on me. I want to be amidst the people and work for them. The good work done by Prime Minister Narendra Modi will help us to win. People of Kolkata North want to change,” said Mr Sinha.
According to Mr Sinha, in the last five years, Mr Bandopadhyay was in jail for two years and remained sick for the rest. “Leave aside work, voters haven’t seen him in the constituency,” he said.
The challenge before BJP is, however, the sizeable population of Muslim voters and Beliaghata strongman Paresh Pal.
Four out of seven Assembly segments ~ Entally, Cossipore- Belgachia, Entally and Maniktala ~ have a sizable Muslim population while Paresh Pal has a strong support base in Beliaghata. There are 60 KMC wards of which 52 are run by Trinamul councillors.
There are three Left Front and three BJP councillors while Congress has two councillors. All the seven Assembly seats are with the Trinamul.
Years of working with different mass organisations of the CPIM has made Kaninika Bose (Ghosh) the choice of her party in this election.
Reverses in 2016 and 2011 Assembly polls at Cossipore- Belgachhia assembly constituency has acquainted her with the hurly-burly of electoral politics.
Of the three, the Left nominee is the least fancied candidate. Mrs Bose said that since 2011 there has not been any free and fair elections and people are unable to cast their votes fearlessly. Both Trinamul and BJP are corrupt, involved in scams and looting people, she said.
A total of 14,43,817 voters (men 7,94,275 and women 6,49,527) will exercise their franchise in 1862 polling booths. The battle for Kolkata North is significant as the outcome will have an impact on next year’s civic polls.