Two Bengal districts hold key to TMC's return to power By Pradipta Tapadar

·4-min read

Kolkata, Apr 5 (PTI) With the BJP seeking to breach TMC fortresses in Bengal, two of the biggest districts -- North and South 24 Parganas -- seem to hold the key in the state's action-packed electoral battle.

Together, the two districts send 64 representatives to the 294-member assembly -- North-24 Parganas having 33 seats and South-24 Parganas 31.

The TMC had swept both the districts in 2011 and 2016, and had successfully cemented the foundation of the Mamata Banerjee camp in the state. In 2016, the party had bagged 27 of the 33 seats in North 24 Parganas, and all but two seats in the minority-dominated South-24 Parganas.

The saffron party, during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, managed to make a dent in the TMC's citadel in North-24 Parganas, but failed to chart its course in South-24 Parganas.

'This time, too, winning seats in both the districts would be the key to retaining power. The BJP, through threat and intimidation, had made inroads in certain areas during the general election. But we have taken adequate measure to stop the saffron party's juggernaut,' state minister and TMC's North-24 Parganas district president Jyotipriyo Mullick said.

Echoing him, party colleague and his counterpart in South-24 Parganas, Subhasish Chakraborty, said voters will reject the 'divisive forces', and the TMC will emerge stronger in the area.

With state capital Kolkata locked in between, both the districts share border with Bangladesh, and house a significant refugee population.

It was the Left Front dispensation that had split 24- Parganas into two separate districts in 1980 for ease of governance. Prior to that, during the Congress rule, 24- Parganas stretched from Kamarhati in the North to Sagar Island in the South.

The Left, however, lost its influence in these areas -- home to a large number of minorities -- after the Sachar Committee report in 2008 painted a dismal picture of the living conditions of Muslims.

Add to that, the anti-land acquisition movement in Nandigram and Singur projected the TMC, led by Mamata Banerjee, as the new alternative.

South 24 Parganas, along with East Midnapore district, was the first two zilla parishads that the TMC had wrested from the mighty Left in 2008.

Over the years, however, rampant infighting in the TMC camp, and communal riots in these two districts started taking a toll on the TMC's prospects, and the BJP managed to bag two of the five Lok Sabha seats in North-24 Parganas in 2019.

The saffron party, which had made the citizenship law one of its poll planks during the general election, was able to woo a section of the refugees, especially those from the Matua community, and the Bongaon Lok Sabha seat subsequently fell on its lap.

Matuas are a deciding factor in 14 out of the 33 assembly seats in North-24 Parganas.

The TMC, notwithstanding a strong BJP wave, managed to win all the Lok Sabha seats in South-24 Parganas.

However, the recent exodus of elected representatives and local leaders has become a matter of concern for the Mamata Banerjee camp, as the defectors include five MLAs from the two districts.

The BJP, at present, has one elected representative from Bhatpara in North 24 Parganas, as Pawan Kumar Singh bagged the assembly seat during a bypoll.

Adding to TMC's woes, the newly floated Indian Secular Front, which has stitched an alliance with the Left and the Congress, is seeking to checkmate the ruling party in some of its strangleholds in South-24 Parganas, which have a significant minority population.

'The TMC has done nothing for the minorities, and they will get a befitting reply in South-24 Parganas district,' ISF president Naushad Siddiqui, who is contesting the elections from Bhangore assembly seat, claimed.

Despite the odds stacked up against the ruling party, which also include rampant infiltration, row over cattle smuggling and graft allegations during Amphan relief distribution, a well-oiled election machinery, strong foundation, and decisive district leadership may work in its favour in south Bengal.

In North-24 Parganas, the TMC hopes to politically exploit the confusion over CAA implementation to curry favour with the Matua community, which had voted hands down in favour of the saffron camp in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

The ruling party has also fielded greenhorns and swapped candidates in several seats to beat the anti- incumbency wave.

The BJP, which is undertaking power-packed poll campaigns led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah -- is hopeful of winning more than 50 per cent of the seats in the two districts.

'We will be able to bag 60 per cent of the seats in North 24 Parganas, if not more. In South-24 Parganas, too, we will fare well, with at least 50 per cent seats in our kitty,' BJP state president Dilip Ghosh said.

Elections in South and North-24 Parganas are being held in three and two phases respectively. PTI PNT RMS RMS