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regular-article-logo Sunday, 16 June 2024

Kanthi Lok Sabha constituency in West Bengal: BJP gains ground as TMC battles to retain foothold in Suvendu Adhikari's backyard

While the BJP looks emboldened by its recent rural poll successes and the Adhikari family's defection to the saffron camp, the TMC seems to be counting on its grassroots connections and the state’s welfare schemes which the party believes have attained last-mile connectivity with the electorate

PTI Kanthi (WB) Published 22.05.24, 10:39 AM
Suvendu Adhikari

Suvendu Adhikari Facebook: @SuvenduAdhikari

The future of the Kanthi Lok Sabha constituency in West Bengal appears to be volatile on account of the dual and opposing factors of the BJP sharply gaining political ground and the TMC desperate to retain its sway over voters.

While the BJP looks emboldened by its recent rural poll successes and the Adhikari family's defection to the saffron camp, the TMC seems to be counting on its grassroots connections and the state’s welfare schemes which the party believes have attained last-mile connectivity with the electorate.

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Located in Purba Medinipur district, the Kanthi seat exemplifies dynasty politics through the influence of the state's Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari, whose family members have held key political positions in the past and continue to wield substantial power in the region, poll watchers believe.

The poll results would, hence, serve as a litmus test for the endurance of political dynasty and durability of the Adhikari family legacy, revealing whether their support base has followed them across party lines.

Political observers note that Kanthi presents a unique dynamic, as compared to other constituencies of the state, featuring a distinctly bipolar electoral landscape where voters face a clear choice between supporting the BJP and its national agenda or favouring the TMC government in Bengal and its welfare schemes.

"In Kanthi, the binary nature of the contest underscores the significance of the political stakes involved, as voters will weigh their preferences between national and regional priorities. It will be a vote of 'Yes-BJP or No BJP and Yes-TMC or No-TMC'," political analyst Biswanath Chakraborty said.

Known for its fluctuating political affiliations, Kanthi has moved on from being an erstwhile CPI(M) stronghold to a TMC bastion and, more recently, to a key political arena of the BJP.

The initial transformation from the Left to the TMC was spurred by the 2007 Nandigram anti-land acquisition movement. The significant shift was driven by a grassroots uprising that followed strong disillusionment with CPI(M)'s land acquisition policies.

Since then the Adhikaris, led by the family patriarch Sisir Adhikari and his sons Suvendu, Dibyendu, and Soumendu, have held key political positions within the TMC in the region.

A dramatic shift occurred in December 2020, barely months ahead of the state assembly polls, when Suvendu defected from the TMC to the BJP.

This move significantly altered the political balance of Kanthi and Purba Medinipur. Suvendu's departure from the TMC meant not just the loss of a key leader of Mamata Banerjee's party but also the transfer of a considerable support base to the BJP.

In the 2021 state elections, the BJP won four out of the seven assembly segments in Kanthi, reducing TMC's grip over only three seats. The saffron party followed up that victory with an impressive performance in the 2023 panchayat polls, further cementing the BJP's growing influence in the region.

An analysis of the rural poll results in Purba Medinipur reveals that in 24 of the 70 Zilla Parishad seats, the TMC’s victory margin over the BJP was even lesser than the number of votes amassed by the Left, a force that had nearly been wiped out from the region. Ultimately, the TMC managed to retain 55 seats while the BJP won 15.

Three-time TMC MP from Kanthi and youngest of the Adhikari brothers, Soumendu, is BJP’s nominee for the seat this year.

The TMC has fielded local leader Uttam Barik, whereas the Left-Congress alliance has nominated Congress leader Urbashi Bhattacharya from the constituency.

"Our organizational strength has increased in this area in the last three years and with the Adhikari family on our side, we are confident of winning the Kanthi seat this time," said BJP's Panchayat Samiti member Swadesh Adhikary, a former TMC leader.

Local observers opine that the growing influence of Hindutva organizations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Hindu Jagran Manch in the area since 2017 has further boosted BJP's growth.

West Bengal Minister and TMC leader Akhil Giri, though, maintained that it was the party that won the seat five years ago and not any individual or family.

"The TMC won the seat because of Mamata Banerjee's popularity. This time, too, the people will vote for the welfare policies of the TMC government as there isn't a single household in the entire district which has not benefited from the state's schemes," he said.

While the TMC consecutively won the Kanthi and the neighbouring Tamluk seats thrice since 2009, it bagged nearly 50 per cent of the votes polled in 2019. The BJP had a 42 per cent vote share.

With around 16 lakh voters, Kanthi comprises a 15 per cent minority population and another 14 per cent scheduled caste electorate with the majority of voters residing in rural areas.

The economy is primarily agrarian, with paddy cultivation, betel leaf production, and riverine fishing being significant contributors.

The region, however, faces challenges such as inadequate infrastructure, unemployment and access to quality healthcare.

"People will vote for the developmental politics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi Ji. The people are with the BJP and the TMC will be given a befitting reply for their misrule and corruption," Soumendu Adhikari said.

Adhikari, however, disputed that people would vote for him for his surname.

"It is true that my family has been in public life for a long time and has been with the people of the area through thick and thin. But the people have also seen me perform as the chairman of the Kanthi municipality," Soumendu said, referring to the chair he served till January 2021 after winning the municipal polls on a TMC ticket.

Following his brother's footsteps, Soumendu also quit his chair and the party before switching over to the BJP.

The constituency will go to polls on May 25 in the sixth phase.

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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