The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A Nandigram test, far away

Ferozabad, April 6: The CPM is already fighting the Nandigram election in a corner of Uttar Pradesh.

As the party’s loudspeakers rain promises in working-class hub Ferozabad, which votes tomorrow in the polls’ first phase, Hamid Ubaidullah curls his lips.

“There they kill us; here they want our vote,” says the bangle factory worker as he finishes his lunch and stands up, ready to rejoin his shift.

Hamid isn’t the only voter here torn between the reality of the death of villagers 1,300 km away in CPM- ruled Bengal and what he suspects are “illusory” pro-worker assurances of the local Marxist candidate, Mukesh Yadav.

Ferozabad and its twin constituency Tundla, both held by the Samajwadi Party, could give the CPM an idea, however faint, of the political costs of Nandigram in the first election it faces after the March 14 flare-up.

At first sight, though, the predominantly rural Nandigram seems to have little in common with these two constituencies, both dotted by bangle and glass factories. Only about a fourth of Ferozabad’s population, and a half of Tundla’s, is rural and land wars hardly strike a chord among them.

But the voters and the candidates are acutely aware of a similarity. Muslims make up more than 30 per cent of the population in Ferozabad and Tundla — marginally less than Nandigram’s 35-40 per cent.

The issue for the voters here is mainly the emotive one of villagers being gunned down. What the distance has done is exaggerate the extent of the violence. Many claim to “know” that the “actual” number of people killed on March 14 is over a hundred.

Pavez, a bangle worker from Tundla, is not as bitter as Hamid. “Something is wrong somewhere. Either all this (the Nandigram violence) is just a rumour or the CPM is behaving like any other party,” he says.

It’s anybody’s guess how the CPM might have fared even without the shadow of Nandigram looming over it.

The CPM is contesting these two seats for the first time after having diligently built a strong base in the past few years.

But the Samajwadi Party is already reeling under an anti-incumbency wave, fuelled by crime and lack of development. Although the Bahujan Samaj Party is the favourite in both seats, not too many would have been surprised if the Marxists came second.

The CPM and the Samajwadi Party don’t contest against each other in seats where one of them is very strong.

Local CPM leaders dismiss the “Nandigram factor”.

“It isn’t like that. Nandigram is not being debated at all. The workers and the villagers have full faith in us. Our rallies and street-corner meetings have been much better than those of other parties,” says Daulat Ram, Citu leader and CPM candidate from Tundla.

District party leader Nawal Singh, who is overseeing the Ferozabad campaign, echoes him.

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