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Both BJP MP Babul Supriyo and former TMC mayor cum Pandabeswar MLA Jitendra Tiwari drew criticisms for their roles in competitive communal violence in 2018. Tewari has recently joined BJP, apparently after coming under the CBI scanner over illegal coal mining and the saffron inroads in his main support base. His conflicts of interests with Mamata’s minister from Asansol North, Malay Ghatak who depends largely on Muslim votes is another factor, local observers said.
Tewari’s entry has upset Supriyo as BJP leadership has made room for the TMC turncoat despite the MP’s public protest. Some other local dons have also changed sides. It is likely to impact the coming polls. Now Supriyo has been named as the party candidate in Kolkata’s Tollygunge assembly seat.
“Does it indicate that Bubul is looking for a safe base after his bete noire’s entry in BJP? The Hindi-speaking camp appears to be gaining upper hand in Asansol BJP in tune to the party’s national ethos of Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan,” Suman Kalyan Moulick, a teacher and civil right activist said.
He recalled that BJP had tried to keep the communal cauldron boiling during the lockdown period in Asansol. After the Tablighi Jamaat episode, the saffron party tried to stop the entry of Muslim cart-vendors in Hindu- dominated areas. But the Asansol Civil Rights Association pressed on the administration to stop the nuisance.
“BJP is yet to start the poll campaign in Asansol. But we are keeping our fingers crossed because of its lead in all the assembly segments of the Lok Sabha constituency in 2019. Asansol North was the epicenter of communal violence in 2018. However, Hindu votes are likely to be divided mainly between the BJP and TMC,” Moulick added.
Left-Congress-ISF alliance role
CPM held the LS seat for decades after the post-independence Congress heydays. Now it has lost its ideo-political influence and organisational power in the socio-economic backdrop of decaying ‘sunset industries’, toothless trade unions, the advent of unorganized sectors as well as mafia economy and misdeeds during its long rule. Nevertheless, it retained Raniganj and Jamuria in the 2016 assembly polls. It lost Pandabeswar to Trinamool Congress but had put up an impressive fight there and in Barabani.
This time, the Left-Congress-Indian Secular Front alliance has fielded a candidate in Asansol North against Ghatak. But both imam Imdadul Rashidi and other Muslim opinion-makers in the railpar area felt that ISF leader Abbas Siddiqui, a Bengali Muslim, won’t be able to influence Urdu-speaking brethren.
Wasimul Haque, the former opposition leader in the TMC -controlled Asansol municipal corporation that covers Raniganj, Kulti and Jamuria has left CPM to join TMC. He had criticised the middle-class Bengali leadership of CPM for lacking the fighting spirit both against BJP and TMC after the riots. Now he resented the CPM’s eagerness to avenge the LF downfall by Mamata a decade ago rather than battling the greater danger of BJP takeover of Bengal.
“I have decided to go by my people’s choice and joined Mamata Banerjee. I hope that the Left leaders will sincerely ensure their supporters vote for the LF alliance and not go for the BJP as they did in previous polls,” Haque said.
Indeed, Left-Congress votes were instrumental behind BJP’s surging voting share, from roughly 10 percent in the 2016 assembly poll, a seven percent downslide from 17 percent in the 2014 LS election to 40 percent in 2019. The corresponding steady decline in Left-Congress has already underscored the pattern. But Mamata Banerjee’s sustained carrot and stick policy to make her rule ‘opposition free is much to be blamed. The LF-Congress leaders have denied any planned vote transfer but held the state ruling party’s repression responsible for the exodus of their support base to the central ruling party.
“We will decide Mamata’s fate this time”
Arij Jalees, a teacher and CPIM councillor in neighbouring Raniganj constituency is more hopeful about the role of the Left alliance this time. Unlike Wasimul Haque, a former fellow corporator in Asansol, he has stayed with CPM. According to him, Mamata should appreciate the ground reality both in the Asansol zone and as well as in the whole of Bengal. ”
Left-Congress-ISF combine can save the TMC government by cutting into the anti-TMC votes that were likely to land in BJP’s kitty. Our performance will decide Mamata’s fate,” he claimed.
For him, Muslims will vote for TMC, but many will do it out of desperation. They have grievances against the ruling party’s corruption and highhandedness. Also, they are apprehensive that many TMC MLAs would succumb to the lures of BJP horse-trading as the pre-poll exodus from the ruling party has already proved.
Jalees hoped that some left-leaning Hindu voters who had gone to BJP would also come back. “My Hindu friends are angry over the increasing fuel price. The middle class is opposed to the wholesale privatisation of public banks, insurance companies et al.”
Regarding scheduled castes voters, he said: “Now things are changing. Some of the Dalit youth are coming back to us. But the problem is that TMC here is still dominated by riot-accused from the Muslim side. BJP will definitely try to encash the local Hindu sentiments against it,” Jalees added.
While not much sure about the Left’s ability to retain Raniganj, he is confident about the victory of the CPM candidate in Jamuria. Aishe Ghosh, the young student leader from JNU is the candidate. She had suffered BJP attacks personally on the campus. “The leadership should have fielded more and more young people earlier. It is the changing faces of the Left which are likely to attract the young voters, particularly those who are opposed to communal politics of BJP and criminal politics of TMC simultaneously.”