Basudeb Acharia hopes to make it 10 out of 10 despite tough times
He has seen nine prime ministers address the Lok Sabha, and when he made his debut in 1980, Rahul Gandhi was probably not even in high school and Narendra Modi an ordinary RSS pracharak.
Meet Basudeb Acharia, eyeing his tenth win on the trot from West Bengal's Bankura Lok Sabha constituency even as political pundits predict a rough ride for the CPI-M veteran.
But 71-year-old Acharia, leader of his party in the outgoing Lok Sabha, looked unfazed, ahead of the May 7 polls.
"We will win. It will be 10 out of 10 this time," Acharia told IANS in an interview.
Five years back, Acharia trounced another seasoned politician, Subrata Mukherjee - then a Congress candidate backed by the Trinamool Congress - by over 1.07 lakh votes.
With both the Congress andf the Trinamool Congress putting up their candidates this time, Acharia's main rival is Trinamool's Srimati Dev Barma nee Moon Moon Sen - the actor-daughter of Bengali film legend Suchitra Sen. She is making her debut in politics. The BJP has nominated gynaecologist Subhas Sarkar, while Nilmadhab Gupta represents the Congress in the battle that has a total of 14 combatants.
"During these 34 years, I've fought against a variety of candidates, from across the state. But none of my nearest rivals has returned to take me on for the second time."
Asked to comment on Sen, Acharia said: "Unlike some vote pakhi (seasonal birds who come only during the elections), I am a village boy. I still live in village."
"The Trinamool candidate is without any experience. She was never into politics. She knows nothing about the problems of the constituency. So, I think the fight will be easier this time than in 2009."
However, poll watchers predict otherwise.
While Acharia led in six of the seven assembly segments in 2009, the Trinamool won four of the assembly seats within the parliamentary constituency two years later. Last year, it swept the Bankura zilla parishad too.
With Sen harping on the lack of development, Acharia is taking no chances, notwithstanding his display of cool confidence. From the day the polls were announced, he has been carrying out an intensive campaign, covering even the remote and distant villages since the break of dawn.
Accompanied by a motley group of supporters, the CPI-M leader meets the voters under trees, beside ponds, exchanges greetings, discusses the national and state scenario, and answers their queries. The same routine is repeated in the evenings.
"I have already covered around 700 villages. On an average, I cover 8-9 villages daily," he said.
Acharia, who chaired parliament's standing committee on railway between 1996-98 and 2004-09, claimed credit for introduction of a large number of trains in Bankura.
"New lines have been laid, stations modernised and passenger amenities increased during my tenure. I brought the Rajdhani to travel through Bankura."
BJP candidate Subhas Sarkar is campaigning with gusto, claiming a "Modi wave" in the constituency. Narendra Modi himself addressed a meeting Sunday.
But Acharia pooh-poohed the BJP's chances. "The BJP has never been a factor in Bankura. It has never got even five percent of the votes fighting alone."
Three police station areas - Sarenga, Raipur and Ranibandh - under the constituency are affected by Maoists.
Though not a single subversive act has been recorded for over a year, with the Trinamool making it a major poll issue, Acharia pointed to the presence of the joint security forces.
"If peace has indeed returned, then why aren't they withdrawing these forces?"
Acharia's entry into the Lok Sabha coincided with the return of Indira Gandhi as prime minister in the mid-term polls after the Janata Party collapsed.
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi was then a boy of 10. BJP prime ministerial aspirant Modi had his first camp at Vadodara as an RSS canvasser.
Till date, Acharia has seen nine prime ministers function in the Lok Sabha.
"I consider Dec 22, 2003, as the biggest day of my parliamentary career. Because the Santhali language got official recognition with its inclusion in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution," he said.
Another memorable day was July 19, 1989, when the entire opposition resigned to protest the Bofors scandal. "Never had so many MPs resigned together earlier."
(Sirshendu Panth can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 05-05-2014)
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