Kolkata: At one time Jadavpur used to be called the ‘Leningrad of Calcutta’. Today it is the setting for an epic battle between CPI(M), which is trying to resuscitate its political fortunes in West Bengal, and Trinamool Congress that is trying desperately to get enough seats to ward off its main rival BJP, whose saffron surge has unnerved the ruling party, ten years since it uprooted the Left rule in the state.
The upcoming election to the Jadavpur assembly seat in the southern suburbs of Kolkata on April 10 is perhaps symbolic of the larger battle for Bengal.
The CPI(M) is fighting to protect its last bastion in the eastern metropolis after losing all other assembly constituencies falling under the jurisdiction of Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) to TMC.
Jadavpur is the only seat that it managed to regain in the city in 2016.
However, in the 2019 election to the Jadavpur Lok Sabha constituency, Left Front candidate Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya had trailed by over 12,000 votes to TMC’s Mimi Chakraborty in the namesake assembly seat.
For the TMC, the fight is to regain the assembly seat it had lost to the CPI(M) in 2016 after snatching it from the then chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya in 2011 when the party had stormed to power, ending the 34-year Left rule.
Winning the seat will also be symbolic for the BJP as Jadavpur University, known as the stronghold of the Left and ultra-Left students unions and where Union minister and nominee in neighbouring Tollygunge seat Babul Supriyo was heckled in 2019, is the centrepiece of the constituency.
It is one of the few seats in and around Kolkata which will witness a three-cornered contest.
However, on the ground, problems faced by the locals may play a more important role than political or ideological symbolism.
Sitting MLA Sujan Chakraborty, who had in 2016 clinched the seat from TMC’s Manish Gupta, who in turn had defeated Bhattacharya in 2011, is going to the polls with issues like unemployment, the law and order situation and fuel price rise.
“People of Jadavpur, like across West Bengal, are politically aware. They understand the dangers they are facing, the ways the BJP and the TMC are betraying them. They want an end to all their problems.
“Voters understand that the politics of West Bengal is becoming polluted. They do not like it. They want a good future. Those who are giving slogans like ‘Khela Hobe’ (game will happen) know very well that they have already been defeated,” Chakraborty, also a CPI(M) central committee member, said.
He said that in a democracy, people have the right to exercise their franchise to elect anybody. The same way people of Jadavpur had defeated Bhattacharya in 2011 but elected the CPI(M) again in 2016.
Jadavpur, which has over 2.69 lakh voters, is dominated by descendants of people who had migrated from erstwhile East Bengal and then East Pakistan in waves following Partition in 1947.
A feeling of deprivation among the refugee settlers saw Jadavpur turning decisively towards the Left when the first Jukta Front or United Front rode to power in 1967. The seat has since then remained a Left bastion, electing CPI(M) candidates, including Bhattacharya, who won five times since 1987.
The BJP on the other hand is trying to muscle in by reviving the refugee feeling, harping on its poll plank of implementation of CAA. It is to be seen how much the promise of giving citizenship cuts ice with the erstwhile refugees.
Riding on the ‘poriborton’ (change) wave of 2011, former state chief secretary Manish Gupta had defeated the then chief minister by over 16,000 votes. He, however, lost to Chakraborty by nearly 15,000 votes in the 2016 election, when a Left resurgence was visible in the constituency.
The TMC has this time fielded four-time KMC ward councillor and a chartered accountant by profession, 56-year- old Debabrata Majumdar, aka Moloy, as its candidate for the seat.
“As councillor for over 20 years, I have worked for the development and beautification of Jadavpur. I have a heart-to-heart connection with the people of the constituency, and they love me. I am seeking votes based on my work.
“Sujan-babu had wrested the seat from us in 2016.
(But) As a result of his poor performance, voters had given us a lead in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The people of Jadavpur are with us,” Majumdar said.
Like in other constituencies, in Jadavpur too, the TMC is flaunting the “achievements” of the state government’s pet projects such as Kanyashree, Khadya Sathi and Swasthya Sathi, among others.
However, the Left has been targetting him over his past “connection” to the RSS.
On the other hand, BJP candidate Rinku Naskar, a CPI (M) turncoat, feels that she is just a foot soldier as the people of West Bengal have already decided to bring her new party to power in the state.
“People of Jadavpur are politically conscious. They will cast their votes keeping national politics in mind. I have been a councillor of ward number 102 for ten years.
People of Jadavpur know my work. No allegation has ever been levelled against me.
“Unemployment is the biggest issue of West Bengal now.
There has been no industrialisation; people have to pay hefty sums to get government jobs. As the BJP is highlighting these issues, I am confident that the youth will back me,” Naskar, who had lost on a CPI(M) ticket from Mathurapur Lok Sabha seat in the 2014 polls, claimed.
Naskar said that she joined the BJP because the party is concerned about the people’s betterment, and the CPI(M) never thought of utilising her potential as her new party did.
While door-to-door visits have been the preferred mode of campaigning for the candidates, the CPI(M) is also canvassing through street plays and flash mobs.
Voters of the constituency, however, reflected different moods.
“The CPI(M) and Sujan-babu had played key roles during the COVID-19 pandemic by feeding poor people through the Shramajibi Canteen and helped in treating coronavirus patients in various hospitals. Voters won’t forget that while exercising their franchise,” Raju Boral, a tea vendor near 8B bus terminus, said.
Others like Tamal Dasgupta of Bikramgarh feel that the impact of the ‘Duare Sarkar’ (government at doorsteps) programme and various state welfare schemes will translate into votes favouring the TMC.
The constituency has a total of 2,99,710 electors, of whom 1,44,921 are males, and 1,54,785 females.
The votes of Jadavpur will be counted along with 293 other assembly constituencies of the state on May 2.