By Probal Chakraverti Kolkata, May 9 UNI | 3 months ago

The four-cornered battle that West Bengal witnesses in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, is perhaps going to be the most fierce in the heart of the city, the Kolkata North constituency.

In what is being billed as the most thrilling affair that puts everyone on tenterhooks, sitting Trinamool Congress MP Sudip Bandopadhyay is being challenged by Congress strongman Somen Mitra, CPI(M)'s Kolkata Municipal Corporation opposition leader Rupa Bagchi and BJP's state president Rahul Sinha.

What makes the battle absorbing in this mixed-populated constituency is not only the names and weight of the candidates,but the interesting demography of the constituency and the uncertainty over who will cut into whose votes, given the crucial underlying factors that could prove to be a game changer.

Of the 58 per cent non-Bengali voters in Kolkata North, 28 per cent are Urdu-speaking Muslims, while the rest belong to Marwari, Bihari, Jaiswal and Kalwar communities.

Marwaris, who control the city's wholesale trade from Burrabazar area, are present in a massive number, while Bengalis are in majority only in three of the seven Assembly segments under the constituency.

Following delimitation, the constituency was carved out of the erstwhile Kolkata North-East and North-West in 2009 when Trinamool's leader in the Lok Sabha Bandyopadhyay won the seat defeating his nearest CPI(M) rival Mohammad Selim by a little less than 100,000 margin. Going by the 2011 Assembly results, the margin is now more than 2,60,000.

But the situation has changed this time, primarily because of the presence of Mr Mitra, the heavyweight candidate of the Congress, who recently crossed over from the Trinamool Congress.

The Congress, which was the electoral partner of the Trinamool in 2009, has a traditional vote bank in this area besides the fact that Mr Mitra commands a significant mass following. It is generally believed that he is out to cut into Mr Bandopadhyay's vote.

However, Mr Bandopadhyay believes that Mr Mitra has 'a little control' over Chowringhee Assembly segment. But a band of fiercely loyal supporters has stepped up Mr Mitra's campaign this time.

Mr Bandopadhyay complains that Mr Mitra is being 'over exaggerated,' and points out that all seven assembly segments in the constituency -- Chowringhee, Shyampukur, Jorabagan, Entally, Beliaghata, Maniktala and Cossipore-Belgachhia belong to the TMC.

But in the 2011 Assembly elections, the TMC had the support of Congress and Somen Mitra was in TMC. In fact,the Chowringhee Assembly is still held by Mr Mitra's wife and rebel TMC leader, Sikha Mitra.

Among the other inter-locking factors is the BJP wave that Mr Sinha is out to exploit to the hilt, trying to get bulk of the votes of the Marwari, Bihari, Jaiswal and Kalwar communities in his favour.

Prabir Ghosh, Mr Sinha's poll manager said, ''The Hindi-speaking communities, many of whom voted for Sudip Bandopadhyay last time, have organized meetings for us. Among them are a huge number of Ram Dev followers.''

Traditionally, the BJP has always had a comfort zone in Kolkata North. It was the home to veteran leader Vishnukant Sashtri and also houses the RSS and BJP state headquarters.

Many believe that the 37,000-odd votes it secured in Kolkata North in 2009 could increase manifold this time because of the BJP emerging as a viable alternative at least among a section of Hindi speaking people.

The CPI(M), however, is no pushover in this game. In 2009 party candidate Mohammad Salim cornered more than 3.5 lakh votes to finish a not-so-distant second to Mr Bandopadhyay, who secured 4.6 lakh votes.

The absence of Mr Salim, who had some influence over the local voters and emergence of the BJP may cut into the Left vote. But the same thing might be true in the case of the Congress or the Trinamool Congress, the extent of which nobody knows.

By any means, the field is wide open and it could be anybody's game.

(Posted on 09-05-2014)