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Baying in Bengal: A Purulia-Jharkhand story

One couldn’t have any inkling of the many reports of violence across the city over the election day.

, ET Bureau|
May 20, 2019, 09.28 AM IST
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Burnt vehicles, including an ambulance in an Indian village of West Bengal.
Walking through the genteel neighbourhood of East Road in Kolkata’s southern Jadavpur constituency on a lazy, humid election Sunday, one couldn’t have any inkling of the many reports of violence across the city over the day. As an elderly lady, with a voice that can drown out Mamata Banerjee’s, tells two other members of her family as they walk towards the polling centre at Jadavpur High School, “Do you see the number of security personnel this time? AND THE MEDIA?” two uniformed men nearby look at her more nervously than with suspicion. Outside, I meet Uttam Mahato. Like me, he’s an observer in Bengal’s star constituency – Didi’s handpicked candidate actress Mimi Chakraborty is in contention here with CPI(M)’s respected lawyer and former mayor of Kolkata Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya. Mahato is from Purulia and has already cast his vote there last Sunday.

As a driver in a hired car company, he’s been in Kolkata for a year-and-a-half. “‘Bengal seems to have become quite a Jammu & Kashmir,’ a passenger told me last week.” Mahato’s home at Garh Jaipur in Purulia is some 5 km away from Jharkhand. “Every house has tap water in Jharkhand, and functional toilets. Gas cylinders are free when first connected, and discounted for refilling.” He visits Jharkhand enough to know. “And what has Didi done? She’s come to Purulia twice over the last five years for half an hour each.” As he lights a cigarette with our second round of tea, he proposes a unique polling plan for Bengal. “Give Modi a chance this time [in the 2021 assembly polls]. If he does ‘nongramo’ (messes it up), throw him out. Everyone should get ten years.” Not to sound too rude, I ask him why he doesn’t think of moving to Jharkhand. “Oh, I could work at the Bokaro factory. But it’s too much tough work.”

On hearing that unexploded bombs had been found inside a high-rise society in Beleghata in Kolkata Uttar (North) constituency, I stopped to have a chat with Pranab Ghosh, owner of Satyanarayan Restaurant and Trinamool worker in the areas. “It’s Didi all over,” he tells me predictably. When I tell him about TMC workers who have told me that they would be voting BJP this time, he says, “Old TMC workers, right?” As I walk across to Phoolbagan, with its decades-long Metro Station yet to open, I reach Narkeldanga Main Road/Maulana Abul Kalam Azad/Kadapara (literally ‘Mud Area’), the name you use depending on which side of the road you live on.

One stretch of the road is dominated by Muslim slums; the other leading to the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass is mostly home to Hindu slums. Both these stretches are ‘Didi country’. People are gathered around mobile phones here following today’s election news. Cheek by jowl to these shanties are spanking gated apartments – Poorvi, Rare Earth, Lake District. The sprawling Rukmani Parasmani building society even has a Shyamaprasad Mukherjee bust looking stern and safe. One can only take a calculated guess which party the mostly Marwari residents of these apartments support. I ask the guards at the gates of these buildings about the unexploded bombs in the neighbourhod. “We would have heard about it if it happened here in Beleghata. Are you sure it’s in this area?” I’m not sure, and I tell them that. In fact, with elections ending, despite exit polls, I’m not sure of anything. Until May 23.
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