People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 18

May 01, 2011

 Some Constituency Profiles

Rajendra Sharma

from Jadavpur

Jadavpur: Contest To Be or

Not To Be is the Question

POLITICS is not always rational. Even more so politics of one man/woman and one point outfits like that of Mamata Banerjee. Her choice of Manish Gupta, retired chief secretary of Bengal, to take on chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, looking for his fourth successive win in Jadavpur, has simply baffled knowledgeable and lay people alike. A round of this constituency at what must have been periphery of Kolkata metropolis just four days before the polling, shows no signs of Gupta throwing even a healthy challenge to Buddhadeb, who won from this constituency of roughly 2,52,000 voters in 2006 by a big margin of 58,000 votes.


But irrational too has its own rationale. In this case this is based on simple arithmetic devoid of politics and a cynical twist. Simple arithmetic is based on the fact that in 2009 parliamentary elections, in reconstituted Jadavpur assembly segment, the lead of CPI(M) candidate was reduced to around 19,000 only. Further on in Kolkata Municipal Corporation elections held only last year, if vote of all the 10 wards that make this sprawling constituency are put together, the Left Front has trailed behind by around 700 votes. This might have deluded TMC chief. But there comes that twist that cynics point out. Smelling possibility of a huge victory in Jadavpur, TMC leader could not allow any of her known and powerful lieutenants to claim credit for a giant killer victory and further add to his/her stature. Hence the mantle fell on a politically rootless retired IAS officer, though this seems to have led to a kind of non-contest in Jadavpur.


Anyhow voters in Jadavpur are largely unconcerned about these number crunching exercises. For this constituency of around 80 per cent East-Pakistan refugee population, Red flag is the only one that they have always identified with and stood with. And this association is born out of their experience of more than half a century. It is the Red flag that has stood with them through instrument of UCRC (United Central Refugee Council), ensured rights to them, including rights to their bustees and lands and it is the Red flag that has always fought for them and has also made huge sacrifices. It is the Left Front rule that has ensured a secure life for them. They may complain, they may crib, some of them may just refuse to listen, as some feel had happened during last corporation elections, but once chips are down they cannot but stand with Left Front in general and CPI(M) in particular. Khokan Gosh Dastidar, CPI(M) district secretariat member and secretary of Jadavpur zonal committee-2, talking to People’s Democracy in one room office of the Party, sees this consolidation in favour of Left already happening.


His optimism is not without reasons. On April 9, when Buddhadeb Bhattacharya went in padayatra to meet his electors, it turned out to be an unprecedented mass procession. Deepa Ray, another veteran member of CPI(M) district committee confirms that in her Party life since 1957 she has not seen such a huge procession in Jadavpur ever before. Khokan thinks that even if you reduce few thousand from neighbouring Kasba constituency, more than a lakh voters of CM's constituency were part of his procession. An overwhelmed Buddhadeb said 'this is going to be bigger than my 2006 victory.' On the other hand Mamata Banarjee's meeting in the same constituency two days before our visit only had an audience of around three thousand with three fourths brought from outside the constituency in a large number of vehicles.


The chief minister’s challenger has been able to think of only one issue to raise. 'CM does not devote much time for the constituency.' Even this does not cut much ice firstly because people here know this is not true. On April 24, the evening before campaigning ends, he plans to address three meetings in his constituency. But people of Jadavpur are not exercised about frequency of CM's visits because water, sewage, power, education institutes etc .. all their demands from the government are largely getting fulfilled. And their biggest concern of peace and security is being adequately taken care of. Reliving horrors of 1970s is the last thing they would like to see.                                                                          

(April 23, 2011)

Kasba: An
Essay in Contrasts

IT could not have been a greater contrast. From Kasba constituency, in Kolkata, the Left Front has fielded a 25 year old M A economics student, Satrup Ghosh, to take on Mamata's trusted lieutenant and old warhorse Jawed Khan. This SFI state secretariat member and student of Ravindra Bharati University is the youngest candidate in 2011 elections for Bengal assembly. Khan is sitting MLA, though large parts of this constituency have changed due to delimitation exercise.


Both Satrup and his opponent have deep roots in this assembly area, one as a gentle, intelligent and academically good, next-door lad and the other as a land magnate controlling and dealing in vast stretches of land. One comes out as a suave, soft-spoken, handsome, genuine boy full of energy and dreams, while the other as a bully, bothered mainly about using political power to acquire more power, to serve his own interests better.


It is not for nothing that computer graphics designer Rizwanur Rahman, driven to commit suicide for marrying a girl from powerful business family of Todies, is said to have mentioned local MLA Jawed Khan in his suicide note, though CBI pursuing this case has decided to look the other way in spite of court questioning omissions of this kind. This incident has dented his hold on those sections of minority community that might have looked up to him as a protector-bully.


No doubt Satrup, an active member of SFI since 2005, is no novice to politics. Still his candidature brings youth's and particularly student's perspective to politics, which is also refreshingly new and creative. By putting up 153 new candidates in this election (up from 137 in 2006 elections), the Left Front has definitely given a push in the direction of harnessing energy of youth.


Talking to People’s Democracy in a backroom of a very modest but equally busy, two room local office of CPI(M), Sachin Sen Smriti Bhawan that is also his election office, Satrup is confident of overwhelming support of youth for not only his candidature but the entire plank of the Left in this election. He puts a complex idea very simply. There is a fundamental difference in the way youth is looked at by politics of the ruling classes and that of the Left in India. While ruling class politics looks at youth as a burden and wants to reduce investment in youth through privatisation of education, jobs etc and reducing democratic space for them, the Left's policy is just opposite of that, wanting maximisation of investment in youth.


He brings two relevant examples in this connection. The central government spends hardly 4 per cent of its budget on education, but Left Front government in Bengal has spent 18 per cent of its budget on the same. The Left and particularly CPI(M) is the only force in the country that has seen to it that the voice of organised students’ movement is heard in parliament, especially Lok Sabha. SFI all India president P K Biju is elected to Lok Sabha from Kerala.


As a proof of youth's huge and growing support to the Left, Satrup points out that in 336 college student union elections held last year, SFI has won in 226 unions while TMC-Congress’ student organisations could win in only 110 unions. Similarly, in school teachers body elections of last year, Left candidates have won in all the districts. This shows growing support for the Left amongst important opinion making sections of society.


Kasba is a new constituency created by chopping and stitching together parts from earlier Ballygunj — represented at one time by Sachin Sen —and Dhakuria — now gone out of existence — Jadavpur and Sonarpur constituencies. As one of the most diverse constituencies, this totally urban constituency has areas from very posh and rich to huge poor working class ones, mainly as bustee clusters. The Left strength lies primarily in these clusters.


But Jawed Khan's area of strength is also in large bustee clusters in areas like Topasia. Very largely Muslim population here has been traditionally in work of leather tanning. Though large parts of tanning business has been shifted out of this area, still a very large number of small leather goods units are functioning here. But this fortress of Jawed Khan also seems to have been breached, as Muslim women in huge and growing numbers are flocking to Left Front's meetings.


Fears of replay of late sixties and early seventies are pushing minorities away from violent politics of TMC-Congress and their face in Kasba. Same is true of middle classes in general and even large parts of 'parivartanvallas'. Satrup underlined the fact of killing of 16 students in the campuses at the hands of Trinmuli goons and their allies as a reason for revival of fears of voilent Sixties and Seventies.

Another interesting feature of Kasba constituency is its once thriving 'China Town'. Still it has a noticeable Indian-Chinese presence, which does not want any breach in peace at all.


No doubt in Kolkata Municipal corporation elections less than a year back, inspite of winning three of the six corporation wards constituting this assembly segment, CPI(M) was little less than 12 thousand votes behind the total votes polled by TMC and Congress together. But swelling support to Left's election campaign suggests this gap could be made up and new Bengal assembly may have a MA economics student as it's youngest member.


(April 21, 2011)


 AS curtains are drawn on campaigning for the third phase of the six phase assembly elections in Bengal, Swapan Gupta sitting in the first floor room of Dumdum Zonal-1 committee office in the bylanes of Rajer Nagar Bazar, looks a little tired but relaxed man. Gupta, who is incharge of CPI(M) and Left Front election campaign in Dumdum, that is likely to see one of the most celebrated contests, has reasons for feeling relaxed. He feels that mobilisation of the last day through large number of small and not so small meetings, processions etc has only confirmed what he could already see in the last three-four days of campaigning: 'there is a huge swell in support for CPI(M) candidate, state housing minister Gautam Deb.'


It's not just what Gupta, member of CPI(M) South 24 Parganas district committee claims. There are more than sufficient indicators of the same. Most telling of these indicators being that the attendance in prime minister Manmohan Singh and Trinamool leader Mamata Banerjee's joint public meeting near central jail was not more than 5000 people. But the next day, CPI(M) candidate’s padayatra/rally, saw more than 50,000 people participating. As if to give further political hype to this contest, former speaker of Lok Sabha, Somnath Chatterjee, also addressed a huge meeting in support of CPI(M) candidate Gautam Deb.


Dumdum was once counted amongst most powerful bases of CPI(M) in Bengal. But Dumdum is not the same today. In the last few decades, its economy and society both have gone through big changes. One very significant change is the decay of engineering industries and jute industry that used to be the mainstay of Dumdum's economy and industrial character. Second being proper rehabilitation and prosperity of East-Pakistan migrant population that constitutes roughly 60 per cent of Dumdum's population.


This has led Dumdum to emerge as an urban conglomerate on fringes of Kolkata, with a huge middle class and even substantive upper middle class population. This seems to have led to some erosion in popular support for Left, though Left's support amongst working people -- airport workers being an important part of -- and East-Pakistan refugees largely remains intact.


The last parliamentary elections saw CPI(M) not only lose Dumdum parliamentary seat, but also trail behind TMC-Congress opponent in this segment, though by a small margin of little over seven hundred votes only. Further, in elections held later for Dumdum and South Dumdum municipal boards, the anti-Left trend only intensified further. This resulted in CPI(M) winning only 16 out of total 39 wards in the two municipal boards that constitute Dumdum assembly constituency, while TMC-Congress alliance cornered 23 seats.


But as Swapan Gupta explains, there is a noticeable change in popular mood in the last one and half years. Besides political and organisational efforts made by the CPI(M) and the initiatives taken by the Left Front government for strengthening social security for marginalised sections, including workers in unorganised sector, people's experience of TMC-Congress rule in the two municipal boards and also at national level has led to disillusionment of even people who got carried away two years back by their anti-Left rhetoric. Successful resistance to efforts to privatise Dumdum airport seems to have given new confidence to airport workers. Effect is visible amongst workers and youth. SFI has won in all college student union elections in this area. The student movement here has given SFI lots of its earlier leaders including Shyamal Chakravarthy, Gautam Deb and late Subhash Chakravarthy. Deb is contesting from this constituency post-delimitation while sitting MLA, Rekha Gosh, is contesting from the reconstituted Dumdum North constituency.


The candidature of Gautam Deb, who has been directly challenging Mamata Banerjee's falsities and preposterous claims, has no doubt given momentum for consolidation in favour of Left. Trinamool’s decision to put up a known but apolitical theatre actor, Bratya Basu, has not been able to even slowdown this process. If anything, his total dependence on Trinamool's ruffian brigade has only increased popular fears of return of violent 1970s in case TMC-led combine reaches anywhere near Writers Building. His claim to be Khandaoon (wooden slipper of old age) candidate for Mamata di is not helping matters for him either. In spite of media's presentation of this contest as the battle royale of this election, CPI(M) appears to be safely placed here in what was once considered its fortress anyway.


(April 25, 2011)


Hybrid Chatkal Dialect Ready
to Rebuff TMC’s ‘Change’ Slogan

THE Bali municipal area of Howrah district starts as soon as one crosses the Howrah Bridge from the Kolkata side. Immediately as one enters this urban-industrial suburb, one listens to what reply the people are getting ready to give the Trinamul Congress (TMC) slogan of ‘change’ --- a reply in their hybrid chatkal dialect, of the kind which only the toiling people can give.


There are three big chatkals (jute mills) here where, traditionally, people of numerous castes and religions from several parts of the country, speaking many dialects and languages, work for a living. The dialect spoken here is a product of hybridisation of the Bengali, Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, English and some other languages. Replying to the calls for a ‘change’ in this very hybrid dialect, an aged worker of Hindalco says, “Change…. That goes all time. Change… law of science. Me… a graduate. My… father illiterate. My son… a post-graduate.” But the kind of change “they” (the TMC and Congress) are talking about, is an unnatural demand. “My marriage…. 28 years back. But wife to remain same after all. Our government… like our mother. It… to remain.”  His facial expression turns different when one talks about the slogan of have a Left Front government for the eighth time. “Left Front only… none else… I say a Left Front government… for tenth time.”


It is therefore no surprise that Ms Kanika Ganguli, the CPI(M) candidate from Bali, is perfectly confident about her victory. She has won this seat three times in a row. The joy of satisfaction is evident from her smiling face when she says, “We people don’t play here Web-Feb.” She started from the student politics, was in the SFI, and then entered the West Bengal state assembly. She has the image of an easily accessible social and political worker, who is seen everywhere in the constituency. Her main rival is Sultan Singh, a retired IPS officer who is contesting on a TMC ticket. Ms Kanika Ganguli asks, “Ms Mamata Banerjee says 80 per cent of the police are pro-CPI(M). Then, what percentage are the officers who clutch the TMC flag immediately after retirement?” She thus directs Ms Mamata’s own argument against the latter, “Doesn’t it prove the Left Front’s impartiality? One to be appointed on a high position is after all not so innocent that a government cannot find out about her or his political inclination.” It is clear that there is no comparison between Ms Ganguli, devoted to solving the problems of her electors to the extent possible, and a retired IPS officer who does not know about his constituency or even about the requirements of mass politics.


But it is not a matter of a candidate’s popularity either. Bali is predominantly a working class constituency. Though the Bengali middle class and lower middle class people are in good numbers here, more than half of the population speaks Hindi. In the words of Arun Lahiri, chairman of the CPI(M) dominated Paur Parishad (city council), Bali assembly constituency is a “mini India.” The organised and also many sections of unorganised workers have their strong trade unions here. Workers of the unorganised sectors are covered by a provident fund scheme while the road transport workers have special social security schemes for them. The net result of all this is that workers have been solidly behind the Left Front, and still are.


At the same time, the issue of peace and security has become a burning political issue for big sections of the middle class. It is, however, a fact that Bali has been relatively safe from the political violence unleashed by the Trinamul Congress and Congress in many parts of the state following the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. Yet the people still remember the nightmarish days in the first half of the 1970s, when 31 CPI(M) cadres and leaders were martyred here. Nor have the people forgotten how the Congress goons had murdered Raju Sahu and Prabhudas, leaders of the Bali Jute Mill workers. The people of Bali do not want any recurrence of violent politics of the Trinamul Congress and Congress type. It is no surprise, then, that the youth here are fully behind the Left Front. The DYFI has a membership of more than 70,000 here and the SFI has been regularly winning student union elections in the area for the last 24 years.


In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the people of the Bali assembly segment had given the CPI(M) candidate a lead of about 26,000 votes. Compared to the 60 per cent of the votes Ms Kanika Ganguli had scored in the 2006 assembly election in Bali, the CPI(M)’s votes registered an increase of about one per cent in 2009. Then, Paur Parishad elections were held in 2010, hardly eight months back, when the TMC could get only 3 out of the 35 seats in Bali; of these 3, it won 2 with slender margins. Yet the CPI(M) and its candidate have been guarding against any complacency. In fact, what is a novel experiment, Ms Ganguli has written a letter to each and every voter citing necessary details from the voters list, urging her or him to meet the candidate (Ms Ganguli) in a meeting; the CPI(M) is holding such meetings in all the polling booth areas. By April 20, more than 200 such booth-wise meetings had already taken place in all the three parts of the Bali assembly constituency --- Bali, Belur and Lilua. In yet another instance, when a big mass meeting of the CPI(M) was in progress in the Bali High School grounds on April 20 evening, four booth-wise meetings were also in progress at the same time.


Like other parts of Howrah, Bali will go to the polls on May 3.

April 20, 2011