Calcutta, May 7: Just as surrendering the right to the Prime Minister’s chair in 1996 was a “historic blunder” for the politician, Jyoti Basu the citizen has had to live with the historic wrong of being represented by a BJP member in Parliament for six years.
True, he’s asking for Barasat to be wrested, but Dum Dum is quite something else. In Bengal’s largest parliamentary constituency resides its most famous political face. But the face the 15 lakh-plus voters of Dum Dum have been choosing in the last two polls is of Tapan Sikdar, a minister in Vajpayee’s government.
It hurts. At 90, after a quarter century of leading a Left government and more than half a century of being a communist leader, it hurts more. Basu wants Dum Dum bad, real bad.
At a closed-door meeting in the area, the former chief minister let that be known. “Each of our party members will have to organise at least five votes, apart from their family members. You have to do it at any cost.”
The ask is stiff. From over 55 per cent in 1989, the Left’s vote share in Dum Dum dropped to 40.29 in 1999 when Sikdar won with around 52 per cent.
Unlike in some of the other seats where Left nominees have been winning also because of a split in opposition votes, in Dum Dum the Congress is tending towards zero. In 1999, it had a share of just over 7 per cent. Tapas Majumdar, its candidate this time, cannot be expected to make a dramatic impact on voting pattern.
Sikdar has shown that 1998, when the CPM first lost the seat, was not a flash in the pan when he won again a year later with nearly the same margin: over 1.3 lakh. “I expect a bigger margin this time,” says Sikdar bravely.
His bravery may not be entirely vain.
The CPM believes Sikdar won because it had allowed him to win. Dum Dum has, indeed, suffered from the fractious nature of the party’s North 24-Parganas district unit. “Our own party workers had voted for Sikdar and captured booths. Some of them also connived with the election agents of BJP and challenged some of our ordinary voters,” said a senior CPM leader.
This time the party has made the leader of one of the factions, Amitava Nandy, the candidate, and appointed the head of the rival group, Subhas Chakraborty, his chief election agent.
Clever. With a personal appeal from Basu, Chakraborty, who considers himself a disciple of the former chief minister, has thrown his organisational might behind the party campaign.
“We are united. There is no force on the earth which can divide us at the moment. The entire party is behind me. Subhas Chakraborty will reach here soon to address you. But I have to rush to Kamarhati. I hope you will not mind releasing me early,” Nandy said at a small street corner meeting
Throwing Nandy and Chakraborty together is like trying to mix chalk and cheese. Till the other day, one would not allow the other’s shadow to fall anywhere in sight. Sikdar is exploiting this. Chakraborty wrote a letter, telling voters why they should not back the BJP. “I think he was forced to write that letter. The letter didn’t mention the reasons for voting Nandy,” says Sikdar.
The sitting MP has also shed his earlier distaste for ally Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee. He showers praise on Banglar agnikanya (Bengal’s fiery daughter) for what she has done for the state as railway minister.
More important than the improbability of Nandy and Chakraborty shaking hands, however, are doubts about the the party’s organisational strength in Dum Dum. Although the number of party members in the district has swelled to over 20,000, wholetimers — who have been the party’s backbone — are far fewer than they were a decade ago.
Dum Dum is a diverse constituency. Starting from affluent Salt Lake through a large middle-class spread in contiguous areas to the smokestacks of Kamarhati, Panihati, Khardah and Baranagar to farmlands, it takes in its sweep almost all strata of society. The industrial areas were the CPM’s strength until 1998, by when nothing much remained by way of business activity with small factories closing down one after another.
Since then, there aren’t any visible signs of change in economic conditions.
It’s true, though, that in the 2001 Assembly elections, when Trinamul snapped its ties with BJP, the Left bounced back by winning four of the seven Assembly segments of Dum Dum. Trinamul bagged the other three.
Sikdar is aware that four BJP nominees lost their deposits. “The BJP has honoured the people of Dum Dum by making me a minister. I think my electorate will remember this while casting their votes,” he says.
What will they remember' Basu is in the past that grows daily distant, Sikdar is the present.