For the Left, this is one seat where they could get it right. This, in spite of the CPM having lost much of its organisational strength and support base in the areas that comprise Jadavpur constituency, where the party last won in 2004. But Bikash Bhattacharya, the veteran of a many a battle, has emerged a key contender in a race that could end in a photo-finish because of his personal image.
The odds though were stacked against him: the Trinamul Congress packed star power with its actress-candidate Mimi Chakraborty along with organisational muscle; the BJP had the power of polarisation, the party has fielded former Bolpur MP and expelled Trinamul leader Anupam Hazra.
But 67-year-old Bhattacharya is not one to give up easily: the former Calcutta mayor has spent about 10-11 hours daily over the past month and more to reach out to different corners of the constituency, braving the scorching sun and treacherous humidity. He has held several public meetings, road shows and hundreds of street corners to let people know that his fight is for a cause.
“People in the area knew that Bhattacharya had fought for the chit fund losers in the Supreme Court and ensured the CBI inquiry. As he has campaigned extensively in the constituency, which houses thousands of chit fund affected, people were assured that he would continue fighting for them in future,” said a retired schoolteacher in Baruipur who didn’t wish to be named.
Bhattacharya’s initiatives appear to be paying dividends in Bhangar, where his party’s organisational strength has eroded rapidly in the past few years. The Jomi, Jibika, Poribesh O Bastutantra Raksha Committee in Bhangar, which spearheaded an agitation against a power substation in the area, has decided to support him despite having snapped its ties with the CPM about a year ago.
“We had decided to field a candidate of our own. But we decided to support Bikashda when the CPM nominated him. We are supporting him only because he had fought a legal battle for us when the state government had arrested many of our leaders,” said Mosharraf Hossain, a committee leader in Bhangar.
Bhattacharya has also secured support from a couple of minority organisations with influence in Bhangar and Baruipur.
Some villagers of Badi in Bhangar, which has a population of 4,173 people, a sizeable number of them Muslims, said they would vote for Bhattacharya. “We have been told that Bhattacharya is a secular person who fights for all… We need a leader like him these days,” said a villager.
A visit to remote areas of Bhangar, Sonarpur and Baruipur suggests that Bhattacharya has had an impact in places known as Trinamul bastions even a few months ago.
Usha Mondal, a middle aged tea stall owner in Sonarpur, said she was in two minds about voting for Trinamul. “I attended a meeting where Mimi (Chakraborty) had come. But I am not sure whether I will vote for her this time. Bikashda fought for the chit fund affected, my husband and I lost our deposit of Rs 20,000,” she said.
Bhattacharya’s challenges are many though, the biggest of them the CPM’s lack of organisational strength. The party for example has little presence in Bhangar — the Assembly segment from where the Trinamul is expecting a lead of 50,000 — and is banking on Bhattacharya’s personal image.
“The main challenge would be to minimise Trinamul’s lead here… If Bikashda can do it, he would be in the contest,” said a committee member in Bhangar.
Bhattacharya is also up against the popularity of Mimi. “Mimi attended more than 50 large meetings in the constituency and every one of them was a hit in terms of footfall. Besides, she did several road shows, which also drew thousands. I think Mimi’s popularity has made the going easier for us,” said a Trinamul leader.
Bhattacharya, who is aware of his shortcomings, has laid stress on street corners to reach out to voters. “People can connect with the candidate better at street corners. I have attended hundreds of street corners only to tell people that I am one of them,” said Bhattacharya.
Jadavpur votes today