The Telegraph
Saturday , April 18 , 2015

BJP confident of 2010 rerun in Burrabazar

If a candidate spends time with her grandson four days ahead of the polls, one may justifiably wonder how serious she is about contesting the election.

But Meena Devi Purohit, the BJP candidate from Ward 22 of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, would not stop at that. She would even insist on making a cup of tea - the typical north India variety with a heavy dose of milk - for the guest.

On being asked what she is doing at home just four days ahead of the polls, the four-time councillor since 1995 said: "I interact with the people of the area throughout the year. I do not need to do anything special just before the elections."

The confidence may sound misplaced but is not so if one looks closely at the poll statistics.

The first time Purohit had contested on a BJP ticket - in 1995 - she got around 54 per cent votes. In the successive elections, her vote share rose from 59 per cent in 2000 to 70 per cent in 2010.

For five years from 2000, Purohit had been deputy mayor in the Subrata Mukherjee-led Trinamul-BJP civic board.

Not that Purohit's constituency - a part of the city's main trading hub, Burrabazar - is an ideal ward. A visit to the area would reveal the ward is still beset with problems related to garbage disposal, illegal parking and encroachments. Yet, Purohit retains her pull among the electorate.

"She is always available. She does not have a personal assistant and we can call her directly anytime.... But the most important thing is we are not harassed with demands for subscription or protection money," said Omprakash Agarwal, a trader in the area.

In an area where local politicians run syndicates to extort money from businessmen, the track record of the councillor and her aides have earned the voters' trust by steering clear of such rackets.

Of the 13,000-odd voters in Ward 22 (a large section of whom are traders), around 70 per cent are Marwaris. The rest comprise Bengalis and migrants from neighbouring states. Purohit's image as a Marwari homemaker who had lost her husband in a road accident in 1992 has so far worked to her advantage.

But the buzz in Burrabazar is that Purohit's battle this time is bound to be difficult as the Trinamul Congress has fielded a formidable candidate, the choice dictated by the area's demographic profile. "Not just in Ward 22, the demography has guided the selection of candidates in the other Burrabazar wards, too," a Trinamul source said.

The Trinamul nominee in Ward 22 is Dinesh Bajaj - a former Trinamul MLA from Jorasanko - who belongs to the Agarwal community. Unlike Purohit, Bajaj campaigning in the area extensively and seems determined to wrest the ward from the BJP.

"We did not have a proper organisational base in the area. But not so this time. We are confident of winning the seat," Dinesh said. He asserted that Trinamul's performance would improve in the other two Burrabazar wards, too - 23 and 43 - where the BJP had won last time.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee's decision to launch her civic poll campaign in Calcutta with a rally near Satyanarayan Park - in the heart of Burrabazar - gave a clear hint of the importance Trinamul had attached to the trade hub, where the BJP was ahead of the ruling party in all wards in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

Though the Trinamul camp is confident, wresting the trading hub from the BJP would be easier said than done. Besides Purohit, the other two BJP nominees from Burrabazar - Vijay Ojha (Ward 23) and Sunita Jawar (Ward 42) - had won convincingly in the 2010 civic elections.

"The Trinamul has tried social engineering by fielding Marwari candidates from various sub-castes in the three wards (22, 23 and 42). But that won't work as all of us (the BJP councillors) have delivered," said Ojha, known as "rubber stamp councillor" as he always carries his rubber stamp and ink pad to issue certificates on the move or attest documents.

Both Purohit and Ojha - who is pitted against Vishnu Sharma of Trinamul - think the peace-loving business community in Burrabazar would vote for the BJP to prevent the culture of extortion from gaining ground in the area.

"Besides, Burrabazar has got step-motherly treatment from the government. Look at the Vivekananda Road flyover - its foundation stone was laid during the Left Front rule but no one knows when it's going to be complete," Ojha said, standing under the work-in-progress flyover.

Trinamul candidate Bajaj, however, denied the BJP's allegations. Whatever development has taken place in the area in recent times, he asserted, is because of the Mamata Banerjee government.

"I am telling voters that they should remember that the state government would release funds to address civic problems here. So you know who the people will vote for," Bajaj said.

But Purohit, Ojha or Jhawar does not seem worried.

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