Friday, June 14, 2024
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CAA, industries shape Bengal’s poll discourse in fifth phase

Trinamool Congress (TMC) supporters take part in an election rally of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in support of party candidate from the Malda North seat Prasun Banerjee for the Lok Sabha polls, in Howrah on May 15.

Trinamool Congress (TMC) supporters take part in an election rally of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in support of party candidate from the Malda North seat Prasun Banerjee for the Lok Sabha polls, in Howrah on May 15.
| Photo Credit: ANI

The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and a lacklustre industrial climate along the banks of the Hooghly river could dominate polling in the fifth phase of the Lok Sabha election in West Bengal on May 20.

Bongaon and Barrackpore in North 24 Parganas district, Sreerampur, Hooghly and Arambagh in Hooghly district, and Howrah and Uluberia in Howrah district will vote as the poll caravan reaches the fringes of Kolkata.

In 2019, the BJP had won Bongaon, Barrackpore and Hooghly, while the Trinamool Congress had won Howrah, Uluberia, Sreerampur and Arambagh. While Barrackpore, Howrah and Sreerampur are urban constituencies, Bongoan, Arambagh, Hooghy and Uluberia are primarily rural.

Bordering Bangladesh, Bongoan has been the hot bed of a movement by the Matua community demanding citizenship under CAA. On March 11, the Ministry of Home Affairs notified Rules for CAA so that the Matuas could apply for citizenship. Even though there has not been much enthusiasm among people to apply for new citizenship, CAA has dominated politics in Bongaon and in south Bengal.

In this constituency, Union Minister of State and BJP MP Shantanu Thakur is seeking re-election and is pitted against Trinamool candidate Biswajit Das. Mr. Thakur hails from the family that founded the Matua sect. Mr. Das had won the Assembly polls in 2021 on a BJP ticket and later defected to the Trinamool.

CAA has been raised during campaigning by the BJP leadership including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah who have accused Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of trying to obstruct its implementation. The Trinamool leadership has dubbed CAA as anti-minority and has said Matuas are already citizens.

The adjoining constituency of Barrackpore is witnessing a contest between Arjun Singh, who switched to the BJP after being denied a Lok Sabha ticket by the Trinamool, and State Minister Partha Bhowmick. Mr. Singh, who has the highest number of criminal cases, 93, among candidates contesting the elections in West Bengal, has an influence over jute mills in Barrackpore.

Like Barrackpore, Sreerampur and Howrah are located by the Hooghly and had once been the hub of jute mills and small manufacturing units. Over decades, the jute industry and the manufacturing mills have become a shadow of the past.

Hooghly, that had become synonymous with the protest against forcible land acquisition for Tata Motors’ small car factory in Singur during the Left Front regime, will see a fight between two actors turned politicians — the BJP’s Locket Chatterjee and the Trinamool‘s Rachana Banerjee. Ms. Chatterjee was elected from the seat in 2019 and even 15 years after the Tatas pulled out of Singur, she is promising industrial development. Ms. Banerjee claims that “smoke from chimneys” can be seen in the constituency, which means the factories are running, and credits the Trinamool for that.

Trinamool heavyweights Kalyan Banerjee, from Sreerampur, and footballer-turned-politician Prasun Banerjee, from Howrah, are also in the fray. The candidates of the Left parties and the Congress have put up an energetic campaign across these seven seats. In three constituencies, the Congress has fielded candidates and the CPI(M) is contesting from four.

Of the 88 candidates in the fray, 14 are women. The fourth phase of voting in the State witnessed isolated incidents of violence and the Election Commission plans to deploy 650 companies of central forces, more than the previous phase, this time.