Rejinagar (Murshidabad), Feb. 21: The battle in Rejinagar for Adhir Chowdhury, the Congress’ Murshidabad strongman, is one for settling scores.
Adhir says he has been “betrayed” by protégé Humayun Kabir, who switched from the Congress to Trinamul last November to become a minister in the Mamata Banerjee cabinet. Chowdhury, in his own words, wants to “teach the Mir Jafar the lesson of his life” by getting him defeated from this seat.
It is Kabir’s switch that has necessitated the bypoll.
But there is a bigger message that Chowdhury wants to send out to Mamata — in Murshidabad it does not pay to mess with him.
“The lure of becoming a minister may have made Humayun Kabir betray my party, but the Trinamul should know that in the long run it would be of no use to engineer such defections,” Chowdhury said. “This is why the Trinamul will face a big defeat in Rejinagar.”
Congress leaders admit that for Chowdhury, the Union minister of state for railways, the outcome of this by-election would also reflect, up to a point, the fortunes of the Congress in Murshidabad in the coming panchayat polls and the clout that Chowdhury wields in this district.
This is why Chowdhury is out on a limb to secure victory for his candidate Rabiul Chaudhury so that he can retain control of his flock following the “betrayal” of Kabir.
Chowdhury refuses to consider Trinamul a “credible force” in Murshidabad.
“This fight, for us, is against the Left candidate. Trinamul, or the BJP, or the others do not even feature in our equation,” Chowdhury told The Telegraph while campaigning for Rabiul on the banks of the Bhagirathi, where hundreds came out on the road to greet him.
While the Congress is trying to ride on its organisational strength and Chowdhury’s muscle power, Trinamul is trying to breach his fortress with the promise of development.
Trinamul leaders in this district say Kabir’s victory in this election is “crucial” since the very purpose of getting him to defect to Trinamul was to make inroads into a district that is a Congress bastion.
Of the 22 Assembly seats in this district, the Congress won 14 in the 2011 Assembly polls after Chowdhury forced Trinamul to concede to his terms in the pre-poll understanding.
Despite this record, Kabir claimed he was confident of his victory. Kabir won 77,542 votes of the total 1,55,887 cast in 2011, making his vote share around 49 per cent. (See chart)
“Not even Adhir Chowdhury can defeat me here,” he said: “I represent chief minister Mamata Banerjee, the icon of development and a resurgent Bengal,” he said on the sidelines of a roadshow in Pratapganj.
Trinamul leaders say Chowdhury’s clout in Murshidabad is no longer as powerful as it used to be earlier.
As proof, they point to the results of the Jangipur Lok Sabha election in which President Pranab Mukherjee’s son Abhijit won by a wafer-thin margin. Abhijit’s victory margin slumped to 2,536 votes from his father’s 1.28 lakh margin in 2009.
But fishing in the troubled waters of the Congress and Trinamul is the RSP whose candidate Sirajul Islam had managed to secure 44.12 per cent of the votes cast in the 2011 Assembly polls in this largely rural and Muslim-dominated constituency.
“The people are rising again, this time against the mismanaged state government and the anti-people policies of the Congress at the Centre. We are the only alternative,” Islam said during a tea break in the midst of a Shaktipur rally — attended by around 400 people — in which Front chairman Biman Bose campaigned for him.
This is precisely what the Left has been talking about in its election campaign. From the killing of a policeman in Garden Reach, to Mamata going to the Bhowanipore police station to get her party supporters released to the Park Street rape case, all these issues figure in Islam’s poll campaign. “There is goondaraj prevailing in this state today,” Islam said. “Only promises but nothing to show.”
“But essentially, this is a battle between Adhir Chowdhury’s clout and Mamata Banerjee’s popularity,” said a trader who refused to be named.
“Let’s see if the Left can make the best of the spat between the two former allies and scrape through to the winning post.”