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regular-article-logo Sunday, 26 May 2024

Baharampur may not be a cakewalk for Congress's Adhir Chowdhury this time

Besides Yusuf Pathan, Chowdhury is also taking on BJP's Nirmal Chandra Saha, a popular doctor from the region, where polls are scheduled on May 13

PTI Baharampur (WB) Published 23.04.24, 06:40 PM
Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury during a poll Rally at Baharampur

Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury during a poll Rally at Baharampur File photo

Unemployment and workforce migration continue to remain major issues in Congress heavyweight Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury's bastion, the Baharampur Lok Sabha constituency in West Bengal's Murshidabad district, and seems to have triggered 'anti-incumbency' for the five-time MP from the seat.

The Trinamool Congress (TMC) sprung a surprise by bringing in former India all-rounder Yusuf Pathan from Gujarat to challenge Chowdhury, the son of the soil who has been winning the seat without a break since 1999.

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Besides Pathan, Chowdhury is also taking on BJP's Nirmal Chandra Saha, a popular doctor from the region, where polls are scheduled on May 13.

"Although we consider Adhir da as our leader, we did not see his required involvement in Baharampur's development in the last decade. We had higher expectations from him," Sudhir Sengupta, a local businessman, told PTI.

According to Lakshman Hazari, a resident of Amar Chakraborty Road in Baharampur town for the last 55 years, the entire district seems to have earned the dubious distinction of becoming the repository for supplying skilled labour to the rest of the country at a low cost.

"What has this TMC government done other than bring back migrant workers home during the Covid-19 pandemic?" Hazari asked.

While Baharampur is dominated by over 66 per cent Muslim population, the constituency is also inhabited by minorities like Christians (0.25 per cent), Jains (0.04 per cent) and Sikhs (0.01 per cent).

Besides the religious spread, 13.2 per cent of the total population in Baharampur belong to the Scheduled Castes (SC) category and 0.9 per cent to Scheduled Tribes (ST).

The Lok Sabha constituency has seven assembly segments -- Burwan (SC), Kandi, Bharatpur, Rejinagar, Beldanga, Baharampur, Naoda -- all in Murshidabad district.

As a mark of making political inroads into one of the last remaining Congress strongholds of the state, the TMC managed to win six of those seven seats in the 2021 state Assembly elections, losing just one – the Baharampur assembly segment – to the BJP.

While the TMC has never won the Baharampur Lok Sabha constituency, local party leaders appeared to be taking heart from Chowdhury's declining vote share, which has dipped by over 11 per cent since the 2009 general elections.

Political observers maintain that despite five consecutive wins, Chowdhury has failed to cement the Congress foothold in Baharampur.

The party has not only lagged in the assembly elections but also remained unsuccessful in putting up a good show in the previous panchayat and civic body polls.

The BJP, on the other hand, managed to expand its presence by winning the Baharampur assembly constituency three years ago.

Though TMC candidate Yusuf Pathan has generated some excitement among a section of voters in Baharampur, experts expressed doubts on how much of that would get translated into votes in EVMs.

They say that despite his perceptible slide in popularity, Chowdhury continues to be a formidable force in the seat where an "insider-outsider" discourse in favour of the Congress leader is getting played out at the ground level.

In Baharampur it is difficult to miss Congress' election wall graphitis stating 'Baharampur nijer chele kei chay' (Baharampur wants its own son), which is a replication of Mamata Banerjee's poll pitch during the previous state elections. The slogan is being popularized by the party to perceptively counter Pathan's image among voters.

In the two preceding two Lok Sabha elections, Chowdhury had defeated his TMC rivals by convincing margins. While in 2019, Chowdhury routed Apurba Sarkar by 80,696 votes, his margin in 2014 over state minister Indranil Sen was 1,56,567 votes.

The challenge before him, experts say, is to repeat the feat once again under changed circumstances.

Criticising the TMC for nominating Pathan, the Congress leader said that the move would actually aid the BJP and was Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee's way of sending a "veiled friendship message to PM Modi".

"Pathan was selected as a candidate to polarise common people (on communal lines) and help the BJP so that the Congress can be defeated," Chowdhury said.

"Mamata Banerjee has proved today that no political party in India should trust a leader like her… She is worried that she may attract PM Modi's disappointment if she continues to remain in the INDIA alliance. By distancing herself from the INDIA alliance, she sent a message to the PMO, don't be unhappy with me, I am not fighting the BJP," Chowdhury said.

He also opined that the TMC should instead have nominated Pathan to the Rajya Sabha or offered him candidature from a seat in Gujarat through the INDIA bloc.

Pathan, who maintained a Bengal connection through his stint with the Kolkata Knight Riders IPL franchise, expressed confidence about a positive result.

"I have a big team here. This is a completely different pitch but the asking rate is the same. My team will aim to score runs faster and win the match," he said after a roadshow here.

BJP candidate Dr Nirmal Kumar Saha, referred to as a 'daktar babu' in the area, said it would be a gross mistake to ignore his support among people.

"We need a change here. I think the people are smart. They know who to vote for. I have no room for hope or despair. But I will add that I am not one to give up easily. Whether it is Yusuf or Adhira da, I will be seeing them eye to eye on the election pitch," he said.

Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by The Telegraph Online staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.

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