Bengal polls: A plateful of big fights (Election Special)

Kolkata, April 13: With four-cornered contests seemingly in the offing, the Lok Sabha poll battle in West Bengal looks intriguing in a host of constituencies as weather-beaten politicians, celebrities and greenhorns vie for honours.

One constituency gearing up for the big fight is North Bengal’s picturesque tourist destination Darjeeling – for long a political flashpoint over the issue of a separate Gorkhaland state. The BJP, again enjoying the endorsement of the prominent hill-based party Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, expects to retain the only seat it won in 2009.

The main battle is between BJP’s S S Ahluwalia and football icon Bhaichung Bhutia of the Trinamool Congress. But political watchers are keeping a close watch on Darjeeling as the duel between the GJM and the state’s ruling party – led by the mercurial Chief Minister Mamata banerjee – steadily reaches a crescendo on the Gorkhaland issue.

North Dinajpur’s Raiganj – which has been electing former union minister and veteran Congress leader Priya Ranjan Das Munshi and then his wife Deepa since 1999 – also awaits a fascinating tussle.

The seat is politically significant for former allies Congress and Trinamool, who are both in fray. But that union minister Deepa Das Munshi – a known Mamata Banerjee baiter – is pitted against her own brother-in-law Satya Ranjan contesting on a Trinamool ticket, only adds to the puzzle.

The former parliamentary affairs minister has been ailing in a Delhi hospital for years.

Sensing a sharp division of votes between the two parties, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) – which finished second to Deepa Das Munshi five years ago – is fancying its chances. It has sent its articulate central committee member Mohammed Salim, the party’s most prominent muslim face in the state, to fight the polls. The district has an over 47 percent Muslim population.

Famed Bengali actor Nimu Bhaumik of the BJP is another interesting candidate.

Since walking out of the UPA alliance in 2012, Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool have been trying to dent the Congress strongholds. But one constituency where the Congress has thwarted the Trinamool’s efforts so far is Murshidabad district’s Baharampur which has been electing Congress strongman Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury since 1999.

Battling defections from the party, the Congress is fighting for survival stewarded by new state chief Chowdhury. Taking on his might is Trinamool’s singing star and debutant politician Indranil Sen, while the Left Front has fielded the Revolutionary Socialist Party’s Pramathesh Mukherjee.

The adjacent Jangipur seat, from which Congress veteran Pranab Mukherjee was twice elected, appears to be in for a cliff-hanger. Mukherjee’s son Abhijit barely managed to pip the CPI-M in the bypolls in 2012 after his father vacated the seat to become the president.

With nearly 63 percent of the voters being Muslims, Abhijit seems to be on difficult turf as the Jamaat-e-Islami-backed Welfare Party of India (WPI) and Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), also a breakaway Jamaat group, are in the race, as is the BJP. Having nearly pulled off an upset two years back, CPI-M candidate Muzaffar Hussain is eyeing an even better showing this time.

The entry of Bollywood crooner Babul Supriyo as a BJP candidate has raised political temperatures in Asansol, where Trinamool nominee – trade unionist Dola Sen – and incumbent MP and former state minister Bangsagola Chowdhury of the CPI-M are crossing swords.

Closer to the metropolis, Barrackpore is bracing for a battle royale between former railway minister and high profile Trinamool leader Dinesh Trivedi and CPI-M’s firebrand trade unionist and social activist Subhashini Ali – the daughter of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s close associates and Indian National Army stalwarts Prem and Laxmi Saigal. A retired IPS officer, R.K. Handa has bagged the BJP ticket.

Another interesting battle is shaping up at Jadavpu,r where former Marxist MP and pharmaceutical engineer Sujon Chakraborty is taking on Harvard professor Sugato Bose, also a descendant of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.

Famed painter Samir Aich of the Congress is also trying out his luck in his maiden electoral venture.

A physics professor and former union minister in Trinamool veteran Saugata Roy, renowned economist and Marxist heavyweight Asim Dasgupta and former central minister and two-time MP Tapan Sikdar of the BJP – have made the Dum Dum seat a eye-catcher.

Another constituency grabbing the headlines is Ghatal in West Midnapore district, where Bengali matinee idol Dev of the Trinamool takes on the Communist Party of India’s incumbent MP Prabodh Panda and former Bengal minister and senior Congress leader Manas Bhuniya.

In neighbouring Hooghly, the BJP has opted for famed music composer Bappi Lahiri from Sreerampur and editor-politician Chandan Mitra from Hooghly.

The Bankura constituency also offers a unique contest. While the Trinamool has fielded glam queen but political novice Moon Moon Sen, the CPI-M has yet against reposed faith in Basudeb Acharia – the party’s leader in the outgoing Lok Sabha – who has been undefeated from the seat since his first election in 1980.

(Anurag Dey can be contacted at anurag.d@ians.in)

IANS