Flags of the Congress, Forward Bloc and the Trinamul Congress fly in ward 4 of Mekhliganj municipality in Cooch Behar district. Picture by Main Uddin Chisti
Sept. 19: Haldibari and Mekhliganj, two municipal towns in Cooch Behar which are going to the polls on Saturday, have a common issue for the campaign — absence of a bridge linking the places on either side of the Teesta.
While Haldibari is with the Congress at present, Mekhliganj is under the control of the Left Front. The Trinamul Congress is trying to woo voters with the promise of building a bridge to connect the two towns.
Mekhliganj is the headquarters of the subdivision under which Haldibari falls. Residents of Haldibari have to travel frequently to Mekhliganj for work. But in the absence of a bridge, one has to go all the way to Jalpaiguri to cross the Teesta and then go to Mekhliganj.
The distance between the two towns via Jalpaiguri is around 100km. Had there been a bridge, the distance would have come down to 20km.
Rathin Roy, a schoolteacher in Haldibari, said: “The people of both Haldibari and Mekhliganj have to suffer in the absence of a bridge connecting the two towns. But it is the people of Haldibari who are affected the most because we have to travel to Mekhliganj for work since it is the subdivisional headquarters.”
Roy added that the bridge issue had taken over the campaign for the civic polls because of the people’s hardships.
To seize on the people’s disenchantment with the parties running the civic boards, Trinamul is offering the voters a bridge spanning the Teesta.
“We are trying to impress upon the people of both Haldibari and Mekhliganj that now that Trinamul is in power in the state, the party will ensure that a bridge is built to reduce the distance between the two towns,” Gopal Roy, the Haldibari block Trinamul president, told The Telegraph.
Roy said in the course of the campaigns, Trinamul had been telling the voters that despite being in power for over 30 years, the Left had done nothing for the two towns and made no effort to build the bridge.
“But the Trinamul government will do everything to construct the bridge. This is our message to the people in the coming elections. We are sure that we will win both Mekhliganj and Haldibari,” said the Trinamul leader.
Haldibari has 11 wards, seven of which were won by the Congress in the last polls. Four wards went to Independents.
In Mekhliganj, out of the total nine wards, five were held by the Left and the rest by Independents.
The Congress and the Left have scoffed at Trinamul’s promise to build the bridge.
Maya Shankar Singh, the Congress’s Cooch Behar district committee member, said the voters were not “fools” to believe what Trinamul had been saying.
“Where will the money to build the bridge come from? The state government has no money. Building a bridge is very expensive and most of the funds for the construction are spent by the central government. Will the government in New Delhi provide funds for this bridge? Who is Trinamul trying to fool? Haldibari has been with the Congress and will continue to remain so. The people of Haldibari are not fools,” said Singh.
Former minister and Forward Bloc leader Paresh Adhikary said the Left Front was “confident” of retaining the Mekhliganj municipality.
“We will retain the Mekhliganj municipality because we have worked to improve civic conditions there in the past five years. People here believe in us and will not be misled by Trinamul’s propaganda,” Adhikary said.
In private, no one rules out the possibility of Trinamul making gains in both Haldibari and Mekhliganj. But the Congress and the Left are pulling out all the stops to dominate in the campaign and giving Trinamul a run for their money.
But all parties are agreed on one thing: the need for a bridge across the Teesta to connect the two towns.
“It’s not just that the people of Haldibari have to come to Mekhliganj for work. There is an emotional connect between the two towns as well. Now the people of Mekhliganj do not want to get married to those who live in Haldibari and vice-versa. All this is because of the absence of a bridge,” said Babul Dutta, a retired government employee of Mekhliganj.