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Lok Sabha Elections: Mamata faces saffron charge in strongholds

May 12, 2019

Four of the eight Lok Sabha constituencies going to polls on Sunday — Midnapore, Jhargram, Bankura and Purulia — are in Mamata Banerjee’s once favourite hunting ground, Jangalmahal, where BJP has made significant inroads in the past year. 

Tamluk and Kanthi in East Midnapore are considered the fief of the Adhikary family (state minister Subhendu Adhikary and his father Sisir Adhikary). Ghatal will see a straight Trinamool-BJP fight while the contest is triangular in Bankura.

 The 2018 rural polls threw up a surprise as BJP won the highest number of gram panchayat seats in Purulia and performed well in Jhargram and West Midnapore, suggesting the party had made significant inroads among scheduled castes and adivasis. BJP also won seats in pockets of Jangalmahal.

 Locals were unhappy with rampant corruption among Trinamool leaders and most of the state government’s welfare schemes, like subsidised rice to poor families, had not reached the people. Since then, Trinamool has made changes in local leadership. However, desperation in both camps may trigger violence.

 BJP has been trying to polarise voters of Kharagpur in Midnapore and adjoining areas since long, with BJP state president Dilip Ghosh leading Ram Navami processions from the town. There was a communal flare-up in Gole Bazar in Kharagpur during a Muharram procession in 2016. As a result, communal politics has reared its head in a constituency that has elected the likes of Indrajit Gupta and Probodh Panda of the Left several times. Midnapore is a prestige fight between Ghosh and Trinamool Rajya Sabha member Manas Bhuniya.

 Trinamool’s vote share is much more than those of Left and BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha and 2016 assembly polls. In all eight constituencies in 2014, the Trinamool vote share was much more than that of CPM or Forward Bloc, leaving BJP a distant third.

 However, post-2018, BJP gained ground, especially in Purulia, bordering Jharkhand. The party won as many as 644 gram panchayat seats in the 2018 rural polls and has mass support.

 In Bankura, senior minister in the Mamata cabinet Subrata Mukherjee is pitted against veteran CPM leader Amiya Patra and BJP’s Subhas Sarkar, a popular doctor in the area. The Left hopes to protect its vote share in the constituency, giving an advantage to Trinamool. BJP is eyeing a major change in the poll matrix, assuming anti-incumbency works in its favour.

 In Ghatal, former West Midnapore SP Bharati Ghosh is banking on her popularity to tilt the scales against actor-turned Trinamool politician Dev. Ghosh knows the constituency well and is also aware of Trinamool’s election strategy because she was once a blue-eyed officer of Mamata Banerjee. Dev has a mass appeal.

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