By Bappaditya Chatterjee Domjur (WB) Apr 8 (PTI) The message Rajib Banerjee, former Trinamool Congress minister, now with the BJP, wants to sell to the people of Domjur in Howrah district is that he may have changed his team jersey colours, but he remains the same man.
Banerjee, who is seeking re-election for the third time after crossing over to the saffron camp in January, is fighting a fierce battle for survival not only against rival candidates, but against the TMC message that the party led by chief minister Mamata Banerjee was bigger than individual politicians.
The Domjur constituency, which comprises urban clusters and rural swathes, was traditionally a Left-bastion with the CPI(M) wining the seat from 1977 to 2006, but is set to witness a tug of war between the centrist TMC and right- wing BJP this time round.
The former state minister, who had won the seat twice on a TMC ticket, is campaigning on his track record of getting development work done over the last five years.
Banerjee who had won the seat for the first time in 2011 by defeating CPI(M)'s Mohanta Chatterjee by around 24,000 votes, increased his winning margin to over 1 lakh in the last assembly election with a massive 67 per cent vote share.
'Aakranta Aamraa' (We the Victims), a forum of alleged victims of human rights violations during the TMC rule, had fielded Pratima Dutta, wife of murdered green activist Tapan Dutta, from this constituency in 2016. The Left Front supported Dutta came a distant second while the BJP came third.
A saffron surge in the 2019 general elections changed the political scenario as BJP emerged as the main challenger to the ruling TMC in Domjur assembly segment which is part of the Sreerampur Lok Sabha constituency.
Though the TMC managed to retain its lead by around 55,000 votes in the last Lok Sabha polls, the saffron camp came second.
Banerjee, as a BJP nominee, is now working assiduously to grab a slice of TMC's minority-vote share in the constituency, which stands at 35-40 per cent.
Notwithstanding the protests against him in some localities where he was shown black flags, the former state minister has been intensively campaigning in minority- dominated areas such as Bankra to woo voters and come up with a winning formula.
'Trinamool is trying to create disturbances in some pockets where they want to secure 100 per cent votes. People in minority areas know me and are aware that I do not discriminate among people while working for their development,' the saffron party candidate said.
Questioning the political credibility of Rajib Banerjee who 'enjoyed all the power as a minister in the TMC government and switched sides prior to the polls', the local ruling party workers asked whether an MLA can work for his constituency unless the government supports him.
The party has fielded Kalyan Ghosh, considered to be close to TMC heavyweight from Howrah and state minister Arup Roy.
'Last time he (Banerjee) won the seat with record margin as people voted for Mamata Banerjee and her work record. Now he has backstabbed the party. Where was his personal charisma, when he lost in the 2006 elections? 'Our government has undertaken a slew of development projects and welfare schemes across the state. Domjur is no exception,' Ghosh, who was a Zilla Parishad member, said.
Attacking the TMC government over its 'failure' to create job opportunities, Banerjee sought to punch a hole in the ruling party's poll plank of securing the top spot for implementation of the 100-day rural job scheme, declaring it as 'a reflection of West Bengal as a failed state'.
Despite a strong minority vote bank balance, the TMC is feeling the pinch from allegations of 'syndicate raj', atrocities and support for illegal constructions, besides charges of nepotism against a section of local TMC leaders.
'Condition of roads has improved, but drainage system needs an overhaul. Lack of piped drinking water, a perennial issue has been addressed to some extent. Still, this remains an issue,' Manotosh Panja, a retired school teacher and a resident of the Salap area, said.
Banerjee alleged TMC was afraid of his growing popularity in the assembly and had fielded two independent nominees who are the namesakes of Rajib, to mislead people.
The ruling party described the allegation as baseless.
The Left-Congress-ISF supported CPI(M) candidate Uttam Bera is reaching out to the people and also hopeful of wresting the seat from the ruling TMC.
He said a majority of the 2.99 lakh electors will 'reject the politics of switching sides and favouritism'.
The Domjur constituency will go to the hustings in the fourth phase of the assembly elections on April 10. The vote count will be on May 2. PTI BDC JRC JRC