In the Calcutta South seat, it's Mamata versus the rest

The chief minister remains main pull on home pitch

By Subhajoy Roy in Calcutta
  • Published 16.05.19, 5:32 AM
  • Updated 16.05.19, 5:32 AM
  • 3 mins read
  •  
Abhishek Banerjee during a road show in support of Trinamul Calcutta South candidate Mala Roy in Calcutta on April 24 Picture by PTI

For the record the contest in Calcutta South is between Mala Roy of the Trinamul Congress, CPM’s Nandini Mukherjee and Chandra Kumar Bose (BJP). But for all practical purposes, the battle in the Trinamul bastion is between Mamata Banerjee and the rest — Didi is a voter in Bhowanipore, the Assembly segment where her party had much to its consternation trailed behind the BJP five years ago.

“One of the major reasons for the interest in Calcutta South is that Mamata Banerjee is a voter here. She has won from here six consecutive times and this is where she lives. Calcutta South parliamentary seat is synonymous with Mamata Banerjee,” said a resident of Balaram Bose Ghat Street, a stone’s throw away from the chief minister’s residence.

In the 2014 elections, the BJP’s Tathagata Roy secured 34.83 per cent of the total votes polled in the Bhowanipore segment, a shade higher than Trinamul’s Subrata Bakshi who got 34.70 per cent. This came as a shock to Trinamul because in 2011, Mamata was elected to the Assembly from here in a byelection. In the 2016 Assembly polls, however, Mamata won the seat comfortably getting close to 48 per cent of the votes.

To ensure there is no repeat of 2014, Trinamul councillors and legislators have been given targets and told to stay in close touch with people of all communities. “I am spending time with people of an apartment that has several Gujarati residents. I am trying to tell the non-Bengali people that Trinamul as a party has always stood with all communities and would do so in future. I hope they understand it,” a councillor of Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) said.

Calcutta South Left candidate Nandini Mukherjee interacting with an elderly voter
Calcutta South Left candidate Nandini Mukherjee interacting with an elderly voter Picture by PTI

“There is no contest in Calcutta South, but we cannot lag behind any other party in any of the segments, especially in Bhowanipore,” said another Trinamul councillor.

Calcutta South, which has over 17.28 lakh voters, includes 32 wards under CMC and seven Assembly segments: Calcutta Port, Bhowanipore, Rashbehari, Ballygunge, Kasba, Behala East and Behala West.

Not only is Didi a voter in this segment, a Trinamul victory is important for the party as Bhowanipore represents the India that Mamata has on her lips in her battle against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “India is inclusive, it is diverse, it is an exemplary unity in diversity. That beauty of the true idea of India, of Bengal, the RSS-BJP parivar is unable to understand or appreciate,” Mamata said recently.

BJP candidate Chandra Kumar Bose at a campaign rally
BJP candidate Chandra Kumar Bose at a campaign rally Picture by PTI

Bhowanipore comprises Bengalis, Hindi-speaking and Urdu-speaking people, Gujaratis, Punjabis and Marwaris. “Places like Bakul Bagan and the areas around Harish Mukherjee Road are Bengali dominated. There are Marwaris, Gujaratis and Punjabis spread across Bhowanipore. Pyarabagan bustee near Beltala is a large settlement. There are many Muslims also in the constituency,” said a resident of Bakul Bagan.

The CPM, which last won the seat in 1989 when economist Biplab Dasgupta was elected from here, still has a significant presence in the Calcutta South constituency. In 2014, the CPM’s Nandini Mukherjee, a professor of computer science at Jadavpur University, came second in Kasba, Behala East and Behala West Assembly segments.

Mukherjee, who is again a contestant, said she expected victory this time. “We are telling people during our campaign that South Calcutta needs a full-time MP that it didn’t have for decades, an MP whose main focus would be on the constituency,” she said, taking a dig at Mamata.

Mukherjee said Mamata was first busy establishing herself as the principal Opposition leader in Bengal, and then was involved in her quest to win power in the state. After her, Subrata Bakshi too didn’t do much for the constituency, the CPM candidate said, claiming the outgoing two-time MP’s attendance record in Parliament is poor.

Congress candidate from Calcutta South Mita Chakraborty drinking coconut water during her rally on April 20
Congress candidate from Calcutta South Mita Chakraborty drinking coconut water during her rally on April 20 Picture by PTI

An old tweet of BJP candidate Chandra Kumar Bose, where he seemingly urged Hindus to shun goat meat, is being used against him in the campaign. In July 2018, Bose had tweeted: “Gandhi ji used to stay in my grandfather-Sarat Chandra Bose’s house at 1 WoodburnPark in Kolkata.He demanded goat's milk! Two goats brought to the house for this purpose. Gandhi protector of Hindus treated goats as Mata by consuming goats milk. Hindus stop eating goat’s meat.”

Rounding off the contest in the Congress’s Mita Chakraborty, a computer science engineer who owns her own tech firm. At 44, she is the youngest of the four key candidates and is focusing her campaign to speak of youth aspirations.

Mamata, who was first elected to Parliament from Jadavpur in 1984 when she defeated CPM stalwart Somnath Chatterjee, lost from the constituency in 1989 and shifted to Calcutta South in 1991. She won six straight elections from there.

When Mamata goes to cast her vote at Mitra Institution — also Somnath’s alma mater — on Sunday, she would be done with the hard task of campaigning in the heat and dust of summer. A win would raise her stature in national politics and a defeat could mean trouble with the Assembly elections set for 2021. May 23 will tell whether 2019 would be another turnaround year for Mamata.