As the West Bengal assembly polls move into the fifth and penultimate phase on April 30, all eyes will be on Bhabanipur where Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee is facing a challenge from Left Front-backed Congress nominee Deepa Dasmunshi and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s grandnephew Chandra Kumar Bose of the BJP.
One of the most cosmopolitan city areas with a sizable population of Sikhs, Gujaratis and Marwaris among the over 200,000 electorate, Bhabanipur has also been the abode of luminaries likes Netaji Bose, Jana Sangh founder Shyama Prasad Mukherjee and the legendary filmmaker Satyajit Ray.
And now, the oldest neighbourhood of South Kolkata is all geared up for the mega battle that involves 11 candidates including “didi” (elder sister) as Banerjee is referred to and “boudi” (sister in-law) as Dasmunshi is called for being the wife of ailing Congress stalwart Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi, besides Bose.
Regarded as Banerjee’s bastion, South Kolkata had been unfailingly sending her to the Lok Sabha from 1991 before she entered the state assembly in 2011 in a by-election from Bhabanipur with a big margin.
Born and brought up in the area, Banerjee has a marked edge over her rivals in terms of the campaign. Splattered all across the constituency are her cut-outs, posters and colourful slogans with the opponents’ posters and graffiti only few and far between.
However, the going is not all roses for the feisty leader this time. Besides the CPM-led Left Front and the Congress teaming up, a recent sting operation purportedly showing several Trinamool big-shots illegally accepting money has resulted in the opposition pointing their fingers at Banerjee, whose USP, many claim, lies in her clean image.
What may also be a cause of concern for her is the BJP’s performance in this Trinamool bastion in both the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and the 2015 Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) polls.
Despite Trinamool’s Subrata Bakshi winning the South Kolkata seat defeating BJP’s Tathagata Roy by over 136,000 votes, he trailed Roy by 185 votes in the Bhabanipur assembly segment.
In the city civic polls, the Trinamool did manage to retain six of the eight wards in Bhabanipur, but lost out one to the BJP, while Left Front partner Forward Bloc held on to another.
But notwithstanding the apparent odds, Banerjee’s roadshows have seen mammoth turnouts.
“I have grown up amid you and went on to become a MP and then a MLA from Bhabanipur. I belong to all of you,” Banerjee has been telling her voters, playing the home-girl card.
Banking on the development plank, Banerjee claims the work carried out by her government would be a “subject of global research”.
Known for her persistent and stubborn opposition to Banerjee, Dasmunshi – one of Bengal’s most prominent women politicos – is unfazed by the prospect of taking on the Trinamool chief in her own bastion.
“Being a fighter, I am delighted to take on the one heading this corrupt regime. It’s not about personalities; the fight is between democracy and despotism,” the former minister of state at the centre told IANS.
Dasmunshi also prides in calling herself the “daughter of Bhabanipur”.
“Having been born and brought up here, people know me and I know their problems and aspirations,” said Dasmunshi, who too conducted several road-shows.
Dasmunshi, who lost the 2014 Lok Sabha polls from Raiganj to CPM’s Mohammad Salim, is this time banking on the Congress-Left Front tie-up and even went to the CPM block office before filing her nomination papers the same day as Banerjee did.
Ironically, Banerjee had in 2014 fielded Dasmunshi’s brother-in-law Satya Ranjan Dasmunshi as the Trinamool nominee against her.
Notwithstanding her hostility with Dasmunshi, Banerjee shared a cordial relation with her husband “Priyoda”, under whom she grew up as a Youth Congress leader.
He may appear unperturbed by the presence of his battle-hardened adversaries, but the going for political greenhorn Chandra Kumar Bose has been tough, to say the least.
Even if his posters and banners may claim some existence within Bhabanipur, otherwise resplendent with Trinamool flags and Banerjee’s posters, the Netaji scion has failed to get an office on rent in the constituency.
Even a strong attack by Prime Minister Narendra Modi against the “Trinamool’s terror” over the issue failed to yield results.
Compelled to use his residence as his election office, Bose – bearing a resemblance to his illustrious great granduncle – has been trying to connect with the voters through roadshows and door-to-door campaigns.
But he seems to have failed to cut much ice with masses in the constituency.
“I respect my rivals, but to be frank, Bose has remained invisible. People are hardly aware about who the BJP candidate here is,” said Dasmunshi, a view shared by several of the voters.