By Anurag Dey, Barrackpore (West Bengal), May 9 IANS | 5 months ago

Polemics over the "outsider" tag, an accident and a physical assault - it is all happening for the Lok Sabha contestants in the industrial belt of Barrackpore, where former railway minister Dinesh Trivedi of the Trinamool Congress faces firebrand trade unionist, CPI-M's Subhashini Ali.


Stretching through the northern suburbs of Kolkata in West Bengal's North 24 Parganas district, the Barrackpore seat should have been an easy take for Trivedi, on the strength of Trinamool's superb recent showing across the belt.

Though he seemingly has the edge, Trinamool's divorce from the Congress and the mystery surrounding a resurgent BJP's ability to cut into the opponents' votes, coupled with the damage which the Saradha chit-fund scam can cause the ruling party, all have added an element of uncertainty to the battle.

In the fray are a dozen candidates, three of whom representing the major parties are facing criticism from rivals for being "outsiders".

Ali, eyeing a poll triumph a quarter century after her only parliamentary election success from Kanpur, is harping on the issues of closed jute mills, unfulfilled promises and the rising crime chart.

But for her rivals, Ali is one without any connect with Bengal.

"She is somebody coming from Kanpur, and had no connectivity with Bengal, forget about Barrackpore. I'm sure people of Bengal don't appreciate those things," said Trivedi.

Ali, daughter of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's close confidantes - Colonel Prem Sehgal and Captain Lakshmi Sehgal of the Indian national Army (INA) - is quick with her repartee.

"The word 'outsider' shouldn't be used in India because nobody is an outsider. We all have the constitutional right to fight elections anywhere," said the 66-year-old, who has been nominated by the CPI-M leadership in view of the substantial number of hindi speaking people in the constituency.

But Trivedi - a Gujarati, though born and brought up in Bengal - faces the same "outsider" taunt from Congress nominee Samrat Topadar, who paints Bharatiya Janata Party candidate and former IPS officer, Rumesh Kumar Handa, with the same brush.

"Trivedi may have won from here, but he stays far away in South Kolkata. He came to Barrackpore only to contest the poll. He is never available to the people through the year.

"Handa is a guest. He stays in the posh Salt Lake, which is far away. In contrast, I'm the only bhoomiputra (son of the soil) of Barrackpore," says the 38-year-old Topadar, who sustained injuries last week on being attacked allegedly by Trinamool-backed miscreants. But the ruling party has rubbished the accusations.

Five years back, supported by the Congress, Trivedi had emerged a giant killer unseating six-time MP CPI-M's Tarit Topdar by over 56,000 votes.

Two years later, the Trinamool grabbed all the seven assembly seats in the state elections, increasing its lead in the Lok Sabha constituency to over 2.19 lakh.

It repeated the impressive show in last year's rural polls, despite fighting alone after snapping ties with the Congress.

But to predict which way the wind will blow, one needs to assess several factors.

Though reduced to a ghost of its former formidable self in Barrackpore ever since Banerjee formed the Trinamool in 1998, the Congress bagged around six percent (43,750) of the votes in 2004. Its performance will be keenly watched.

Despite the BJP managing a measly 3.56 percent votes in 2009, the party is hoping that a "Narendra Modi (party's prime ministerial candidate) wave" would raise its vote share by several notches.

Targeting the hindi speaking population, and the large number of refugees from Bangladesh who have settled in the constituency over the decades, the BJP got its star campaigner Modi to pitch for Handa, who was injured in a road accident while campaigning

The extent of the BJP's success and which of its main rivals bleeds more as a consequence would be crucial in shaping the final outcome.

The multi-crore Saradha scam, a key issue in all political speeches now with the chief minister herself facing the heat from the likes of Modi, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and CPI-M stalwarts, may dent the Trinamool's prospects at least to some extent, as a large number of the victims reside in the constituency.

But Trivedi exudes confidence that Barrackpore - with a total electorate of over 1.28 million - will vote for development ushered in by Banerjee.

(Anurag Dey can be contacted at anurag.d@ians.in)

(Posted on 09-05-2014)

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