The Telegraph
Monday , May 12 , 2014
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Trinamul race for Mahaharbour

- Leaders try their best to ensure CM nephew’s victory, CPM banks on disenchantment

Before the battle of Kurukshetra, Duryodhana had asked the Kaurava maharathis — Bhishma, Dronacharya, Kripa, Ashwatthama and Karna — how many days they would need to vanquish the Pandavas. Answers ranged from five days to two months, with each warrior bragging about his prowess in the battlefield.

A similar scene unfolded in the Diamond Harbour Lok Sabha constituency ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Trinamul leaders are in a race to ensure the maximum number of votes from their areas for party nominee, Abhishek Banerjee, chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s nephew.

The victory margin prediction ranges from 1 lakh to 2 lakh.

Twenty-six-year-old Abhishek — usually seen in white kurta-pyjama, sneakers, rimless glasses and gelled hair — made his debut in politics in July 2011 when Mamata floated the All India Trinamul Yuva and made him its chief.

Abhishek is the star to which a number of senior Trinamul leaders have hitched their wagons as they know a handsome victory will be rewarded while an upset may have disastrous consequences on their political careers.

Senior leader and IT minister Partha Chatterjee, Calcutta mayor and Mamata loyalist Sovan Chatterjee, Assembly deputy speaker Sonali Guha and Falta MLA Tamonash Ghosh have been making all efforts to ensure that Abhishek reaches the Lok Sabha with the highest margin possible.

“He grew up in front of my eyes. He is like a son to me. I am glad that he is contesting as he has an appeal among youths,” Chatterjee said. “The margin will be over a lakh,” he added.

Partha Chatterjee, who was stripped of the industry portfolio last year and told to concentrate on the party organisation where all-India general secretary Mukul Roy calls the shots, has been a constant fixture on Abhishek’s campaign trail.

Sovan Chatterjee, who Trinamul sources said had his eyes on the seat before Abhishek was given the seat, is confident that the margin would be higher than a lakh.

“Not less than 2 lakh,” the mayor said, asked about Abhishek’s probable victory margin. “Since the candidates’ list was announced, I have been spending six to eight hours in the constituency. Being the Trinamul district working president, I have a responsibility. He (Abhishek) is like my younger brother,” Sovan Chatterjee said.

South 24-Parganas, where the Diamond Harbour seat is located, and East Midnapore were the first districts to be swayed by the winds of change. Trinamul trumped the CPM in both zilla parishads in the 2008 rural polls. A year later, riding on the anti-Left wave, Trinamul nominee Somen Mitra won the Diamond Harbour Lok Sabha seat by a margin of 1.71 lakh votes.

Although Trinamul retained the South 24-Parganas zilla parishad in 2013 amid allegations of arm-twisting and intimidation, the party did not do well in Diamond Harbour.

Mamata’s decision to field Abhishek has raised eyebrows in the party because of her stand against dynasty politics. It was, however, a calculated move to bring the rival factions together.

Many district leaders do not see eye-to-eye with Sovan Chatterjee. In Diamond Harbour, local MLA Dipak Haldar and municipality vice-chairman Pannalal Haldar have apparently never been on the same page. The Satgachhia MLA and Assembly deputy speaker, Guha, has differences with Sovan Chatterjee and Shamima Sheikh, the zilla parishad sabhapati.

In the Maheshtala Assembly segment, resentment is said to be brewing against local municipality chairman Dulal Das, the father-in-law of Sovan Chatterjee.

Mamata had these equations in mind when she addressed her first district conference in the Diamond Harbour constituency on March 18 at Pailan.

Referring to Abhishek’s nomination, Mamata said: “I didn’t want him to get into politics with backing, like those born with a golden spoon in their mouth. I have sent him here to work with you and learn.”

“Golden spoon” became a refrain in election rallies that she addressed for her nephew later.

During a rally on May 4, Mamata recounted how Abhishek had vowed to avenge the attack on her by alleged CPM activists in 1990, promised not to take up a job after completing education but join politics.

Abhishek’s CPM rival is 63-year old general surgeon Abul Hasnat, a former MLA.

The decision to field a minority candidate was taken with an eye on the 30 per cent Muslim voters in Diamond Harbour.

The CPM is banking on the popularity of its doctor candidate and the perceived disenchantment with Trinamul.

The CPM is also expecting that the Saradha default and the Supreme Court’s order of a CBI probe into the scam would take its toll on Trinamul’s vote bank.

In the 2013 panchayat polls, the CPM had got 4 per cent more votes in rural Diamond Harbour than what it had bagged in 2008.

CPM leaders are hopeful that the trend will continue in the Lok Sabha polls.

“People are unhappy with the government, especially with the Saradha and teacher recruitment scams. While campaigning, I have seen how people have responded to these issues,” Hasnat said.

The BJP is hoping to increase its vote share from the 4 per cent it had managed in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. The party is looking to play a major role in the future as labour unions in the Falta industrial zone have started shifting allegiance from the INTTUC to the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, the BJP’s labour arm.

Questions on dynasty politics, the impact of Saradha and internal squabbles do not bother Abhishek. “People have overwhelming faith in the development agenda of Mamata Banerjee…. None of these will have any impact on the election results,” he said.

• Diamond Harbour votes on May 12