AFTER THE PARTY, THE ORGY 

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By BY SUJAN DUTTA in Midnapore
  • Published 29.04.01
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Midnapore, April 29 :    Midnapore, April 29:  Ask not what the party can do for Midnapore. Ask what Midnapore can do for the party. That's what Dipak Sarkar's demeanour says. He removes his gold-rimmed glasses, places them on the glass-topped table, wipes his eyes with a towel and settles deeper into the high-backed swivel chair. It threatens to be a long lecture in his office at the three-storeyed district headquarters of the CPM. "What was Midnapore like before we came? Nothing. Little better than a wasteland. Look what we have done to it. Our biggest achievement on the industrial front - Haldia Petrochemicals - is here; Operation Barga and the redistribution of land to the marginal farmers have almost covered the district. Midnapore is grateful to us. This time we will win and win handsomely. Don't ask me for figures. Right now I can only say that we will win many more seats than we did the last time." In a downstairs room, a Sarkar aide predicts the Left will win at least 30 seats. In other words, Midnapore owes it to us, the CPM, the comrades. The unstated threat: Midnapore dare not do otherwise. Cut to Khakurda village, where Mamata Banerjee is claiming the Trinamul-Congress alliance will sweep the polls. Ninety per cent of her ministry, she is saying, will comprise her party's elected representatives from Midnapore. In more than one way, the battle for Bengal this time is the battle for Midnapore. It is where political rivalry in the state is at its bitterest and most violent. If Sarkar is to be believed, Midnapore, the largest district in the country, will return excellent figures for the Left. In 1996, the Left - the CPM and the CPI - won 28 of the district's 37 seats. The Congress got eight and the Jharkhand Party one. The results were more or less reflected in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections. Trinamul, which had taken away the Congress vote, in alliance with the BJP, led in 10 Assembly segments. This means that Midnapore has given to the party in full measure. The district shed its traditional politics and donned red colours in 1977. Since then, like much of Bengal, it has sent up contingent after large contingent of Marxist MLAs. The Marxists can't have enough of Midnapore. Only, Midnapore is beginning to tire. A little farther north of the CPM office, in a ground-floor tenement, Trinamul has a largish room for itself. Activists, mostly youths, are sprawled on the rough floor covered by torn mats. Many claim they are refugees - unable to return to their villages in Keshpur and Garbeta and Pingla where CPM cadre have effectively banned their entry. "If there is a real election in which people really cast their votes then we will be the real winners," says Mohsin Khan. "We showed it in the Panskura Lok Sabha bypoll last year." Trinamul had held up the bypoll as a watershed. It rammed its way through Keshpur, the Assembly segment that had since 1982 always stood by the Left, and ensured a lead of more than 6,000 votes for its candidate Bikram Sarkar. The bloodletting that followed is among the most sordid chapters in Bengal's recent political history. What it showed up most, however, is that vast parts of Midnapore are caught in a political swing. Booth-capturing is passe in Midnapore. It is how many villages are captured that will determine the result. In Keshpur, where the CPM has won back almost the entire territory, villagers have learnt to camouflage their sympathies. The CPM is still nervy about what many of them will do once inside the polling booth. Trinamul's hopes lie in the main in Tamluk and Contai subdivisions. All contenders agree that the alliance has two candidates who are sure winners: Gyan Singh Sohanpal in Kharagpur town and Sisir Adhikari in Contai South. In the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, the party led in nine segments, seven of them in the Tamluk belt. The other two segments were Garbeta East - represented by minister of state for transport Sushanta Ghosh - and Keshpur itself. Given the scale of the CPM's organisation here, Trinamul cannot hope to win these seats unless, as local leader Mohsin Khan puts it, "our people are allowed to return home". The other constituency where the CPM does not fancy its chances is Binpur - where Jharkhand Party (Hansda) candidate Chunibala Hansda is in a straight fight with Shambhu Mandi. But these trends are superficial. They reflect the last Lok Sabha polls. Where Midnapore surprises is in its ability to conceal its real intentions. In the 1996 Assembly polls, this was the district with the singular distinction of being home to constituencies that saw the highest and the lowest margins in the state. In Jhargram, CPM candidate Buddhadeb Bhakat won by 67,911 votes. In Ramnagar, the CPM won by 50 votes. In past elections, the BJP, too, has shown its ability to win votes that can turn it into a spoiler. However, this time, Midnapore is so polarised and so high is the anti-incumbency factor that the possibility of the Opposition vote splitting wide open is getting less remote as the campaign progresses. In Midnapore, the party is over. The orgy is only just beginning.