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Trinamool confident of beating BJP challenge, BJP is equally upbeat

Birbhum, located near the Jharkhand border was a Maoist hotbed till 2012.

, ET Bureau|
Apr 26, 2019, 09.19 AM IST
Birbhum is also referred as Bengal’s finest handicraft hub and the abode of Rabindranath Tagore.
Birbhum: Seventy year old Sheikh Saukat Ali in Birbhum’s remote Parui village lost his 16-year-old son, Tausif, in a violent clash between Trinamool Congress and BJP in October 2014, after BJP tried to wrest control of the village. Tausif was a BJP worker. BJP publicised Tausif ’s death as its first ‘Muslim martyr’ in West Bengal. His elder brother, Sabir Ali, a local BJP leader, had meetings with senior BJP leaders. including party chief Amit Shah. But both Sabir and his father have many criminal cases against them which, they say, were slapped against them for joining BJP.Ali, however, is disappointed with BJP.

“We have many cases against us. Otherwise, everything is fine. Didi has undertakne development. We are not in politics anymore. The party for which my son fought and was killed did not do much for us. They gave us Rs 50,000.” Disenchantment with BJP was visible among some Muslims who joined it in minority-dominated districts of the state. Birbhum has 43% Muslim voters, making it an essentially bipolar contest between Trinamool and BJP. Interestingly, it is one place where BJP’s rise in the state was first noticed after 2014 general elections. Disgruntled Muslims from Left parties and Congress had then joined BJP.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi who was here on Wednesday said that he had requested the crown prince of Saudi Arabia to increase the quota for Haj pilgrims from India by 2 lakhs. “When the crown prince was here, I told him that Indian Muslims were doing very well. They want to go on Haj and requested him to increase the quota. I also requested him to release Indians from prison before Ramazan. In 12 hours, he increased the quota by 2 lakh and released 800 Indians.”

Political observers see it as Modi’s bid to woo Muslims. With the influence of Communists waning in the once red citadel, BJP is heavily banking on the 22% Left votes to shift in its favour.

Trinamool MP Satabdi Roy and former BJP district president Dudhkumar Mondal are engaged in a fight here. Even as Trinamool continues with a high-voltage campaign for Roy, Mondal does a door-to-door campaigning. One can hardly find BJP flags or graffiti in the area. However, there was a massive turnout for Modi’s rally.

Trinamool Congress district President Anubrata Mondal, however, is dismissive. He says that transport operators ferried people from different places for Modi’s rally after “they took my permission when they were offered seven times more than the market rate. I have already done 52 rallies and road shows in the last two months. In a democracy, the Opposition too should have space. So, I allowed them.” Mondal added that he identified around 296 booths out of 2,000 that the BJP planned to rig. “We will resist. People are not scared of the central forces.”The Opposition has demanded heavy deployment of central forces in all booths here. A senior Trinamool leader explained why BJP doesn’t stand a chance. “We have 43% Muslim voters. They will never vote for a communal force that is almost denying them the right to remain Indians. If we get at least 10% of Hindu votes too, we will be a clear winner. The people here are the direct beneficiaries of Didi’s schemes. We are only concerned about the margin of victory.” However, BJP has a reverse logic: “We have a support base among Muslims. This apart, the constituency has at least 8% tribal votes, 29% SC votes and we will have a strong Hindu voter support base here,” said a BJP leader.

In 2009, TMC defeated CPM here for the first time after ten terms of CPM since 1972. In both 2009 and 2014, CPM had been a close second to TMC as it lost by a margin of around 70000 votes. TMC’s vote share however went down from 48% in 2009 to 36% in 2014. CPM’s share plummeted from 42% in 2009 to 32% in 2014. In 2014, the surprise entrant was BJP with almost 18% vote share. In 2016, however, TMC retained five of seven assembly segments here. Mondal also boasted that of total 167gram panchayats, TMC won in 165 uncontested.

Birbhum, located near the Jharkhand border was a Maoist hotbed till 2012. It witnessed some of the bloodiest incidents of political violence over last ten years. Birbhum is also referred as Bengal’s finest handicraft hub and the abode of Rabindranath Tagore.
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