One of the many highrises in Panihati. (Sanat Kr Sinha)
Calcutta, Sept. 19: Trapped between rows of jute mills, closed factories and old ghats along the Hooghly on one side and housing estates, coffee shops and shopping malls on the other, Panihati in North 24-Parganas is poised for a pitched political battle on Saturday.
Along with residents of 11 other municipalities across the state, over three lakh voters will decide whether they want paribartan in local-level governance in Panihati, around 18km from Calcutta.
For Trinamul, it is a prestige fight as a win will remove the only red dot in the Barrackpore industrial zone, where the ruling party has been gaining in strength since 2008. The two adjacent municipalities — Khardah and Madhyamgram — are run by Trinamul.
The Left is desperate to retain the municipality in Panihati, a stronghold for the past three decades, as it will give the impression that the slide in the Left’s support base has been arrested.
But both the CPM and Trinamul are not sure about the outcome of Saturday’s elections because of several reasons.
Trinamul is edgy as local leaders are wary of factionalism hurting the party’s prospects in an area that has district Trinamul president Nirmal Ghosh as its MLA. Trinamul also apprehends that the Congress could cut into its vote share.
Left leaders admit in private that they have lost their biggest edge — organisational strength — in the past few years. The combine is banking primarily on committed voters and a split in anti-Left votes.
Whatever be the outcome, both key players know one thing for sure — it will be an uphill task for the new municipal board to meet aspirations that are typical of any small town.
“The biggest challenge is the problem of water-logging,” said Swapan Goswami, the secretary of the Bijoypur Town Club in HB Town, a plush township in Sodepur that has a high concentration of private and nationalised banks.
Residents of the township as well as other parts of the municipal area have to wade through knee-deep water for days after a spell of rain during monsoon.
The municipality covers 35 wards stretching 19.43sqkm with a population of close to four lakh. But residents complain that infrastructure has not grown proportionately and delivery of basic services such as water, drainage, lights and roads is way below expectation levels.
“The Noai canal in the east and the Khardah canal in the north used to be the primary outlets through which water in the low-lying areas of Panihati would be drained out,” said Avijit Mukherjee, a retired irrigation department official in Agarpara.
“Over the years, illegal constructions on the banks have reduced the water-carrying capacity of the two canals and no effort has been made by the civic board to find an alternate way of addressing the issue. As a result, the only state hospital in our area — the Panihati State General Hospital — gets flooded during every monsoon,” he added.
Trinamul highlighted local problems during the campaign.
For the party leadership, a win would help contain the internal feud.
There has been a spurt of real estate development in these areas amid allegations of local Trinamul leaders playing facilitators.
The CPM’s Charan Chakrabarty, the chairman of the outgoing board, is aware that the fight will be difficult for him as he will have to grapple with anti-incumbency and the might of the ruling establishment.
Top Trinamul leaders such as industries minister Partha Chatterjee, MPs Subhendu Adhikari and Saugata Roy have campaigned extensively in Panihati.
“We have taken up a Rs 246-crore project to supply clean drinking water 24x7 and it should be ready by the end of the year,” Charan Chakrabarty said.
Manoj Chakraborty, who is spearheading the Congress campaign in Panihati, said: “We had four councillors last time…. This time, the tally will go up.”
If his prediction comes true, it will give some respite to the beleaguered Left.