Bose tags Atal secular for minority votes

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By TAPAS GHOSH
  • Published 9.05.04
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If Narendra Modi is pitted against Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who will the CPM root for? The unlikely contest is unfolding on the outskirts of Calcutta and the CPM’s best bet lies in Modi prevailing over Vajpayee.

That is why Krishna Bose does not tire of reminding the voters that her primary concern is to strengthen the hands of Atalji, though it is the 10th meeting she has packed into the day.

Ataljir haat shakto korar janya ebaar apnader kachhey vote chaitey eshechhi (I have come to seek votes from you to strengthen the hands of Atalji),” the Trinamul Congress candidate says, the punishing schedule telling on her cracking voice.

With a surname and a lineage that strike a chord across Bengal, Krishna Bose, the widow of Netaji’s nephew Sisir Bose, did not always need Vajpayee’s name to carry her through.

But other names, like Modi, are cropping up and muddling the outlook. “Bhoolbenna, Narendra Modi ekjan BJP neta jey dariye dariye dekhlo Godhratey otoboro ekta danga, kintu haat gutiey boshey roilo (Don’t forget Narendra Modi is a BJP leader who turned a blind eye to the riots in Godhra),” Sujan Chakraborty, her rival and the CPM candidate, jogs the memory of voters at every meeting he addresses.

That is a potent reminder in a constituency that has 3,36, 000 — or 24 per cent — Muslims. Bound to the BJP at the hustings, Krishna is now having to battle Modi by holding aloft the Vajpayee secular flag far above the other familiar coat of arms — the Netaji legacy and the Mamata Banerjee association.

Realising that the minority vote could turn the tide against Krishna, Chakraborty has concentrated his firepower on areas with considerable Muslim presence. The target areas of his campaign have been Mograhat (West), Baruipur and Kabitirtha where about 38 per cent of voters are Muslims.

“In 1999, Krishna Bose won by a margin of over 66,000 votes and bagged at least 60 per cent of the Muslim votes. We found this out in a survey conducted by us. This time, we are sure that the majority of the Muslims will support us,” says Shantimoy Bhattacharya, the secretary of the South 24-Parganas unit of the CPM and Chakraborty’s father-in-law.

But Krishna is putting up a brave front. She feels that “the Muslims have always been with us and they will remain so. The CPM is trying hard to mislead the people by branding us communal. We are not worried as our voters are politically conscious”.

She takes care to switch on the signature tune again. “The achievements of the Vajpayee government over the past five years will put us on the victory block.”

Despite a replaced knee — which puts her in the same club as Vajpayee — Krishna has gone full throttle. The 10th meeting over, she is bracing for another half a dozen before the day draws to a close.

Not without reason as Chakraborty is no pushover. After losing the Assembly election by a mere five votes in 2001, Chakraborty has consolidated his position over the past three years.

The ominous presence of Modi is a disturbing feature for Krishna, and so is an equally significant absence. Mamata, who had in 1999 held a string of meetings to canvass for her, is preoccupied elsewhere and has hardly shown up this time.

If a star is missing for Krishna, Chakraborty is banking on another. The Jadavpur Assembly constituency is now represented by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, a factor that is spurring the CPM cadre to make an extra effort to regain the Lok Sabha seat.

But the minority vote alone will not see the CPM through. The 2001 arithmetic was tilted in favour of Trinamul – the party holds four Assembly constituencies in the seat, against the CPM’s two and the Congress’ one.

Internal feud could also hobble the CPM. The squabbles which caused the eclipse of a strongman of the stature of Kanti Ganguly in the 1999 election are still at play. Besides, the CPM’s hopes that a third candidate would eat into the Trinamul base appear to have been dashed with the Congress fielding a relatively weak nominee.

An unusual shift in the composition of voters is also keeping all the sides on tenterhooks. The number of voters has come down by over 40,000 even after 36,000 new names have been added to the rolls.

It is believed that the real estate boom in the area has displaced large families that used to live in slums. “In a place where 100 people lived, a highrise has come up where about 50 people live. So, the number of voters has come down,” says a political leader.

Both Trinamul and the CPM stake claim to the vote of the downtrodden. It remains to be seen who loses more by the displacement.