Ground Report From Barrackpore: This Seat Of Many Mutinies Looks Set To Reinforce Its ‘Nationalism’
The reiteration of nationalistic credentials by the electorate of Barrackpore can hurt the Trinamool very badly at the hustings.
This ancient river port which the British chose to set up as their first military station on Indian soil is looking forward to an end to the convulsions created by a recent mutiny.
Barrackpore has been a seat of mutinies, the first recorded one in 1824 (read this and this), followed by the one ignited by Mangal Pandey in 1857. The latest was the one senior Trinamool leader and former Barrackpore Lok Sabha MP Dinesh Trivedi.
However, it is the ‘mutiny’ by Arjun Singh, the sitting MP from this seat, against Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee in March 2019 that this assembly constituency still convulses from.
Singh, known as Barrackpore’s strongman, revolted against his (Trinamool) party supremo and joined the BJP in March 2019, and got the party ticket to contest the Barrackpore Lok Sabha seat in the elections held in May that year.
Singh trumped the Trinamool’s Dinesh Trivedi, who had won from that seat twice (2009 and 2014) and had been a minister in the Manmohan Singh’s cabinet.
To add insult to the Trinamool’s injury, Arjun Singh’s son Pawan won the Bhatpara Assembly seat (Bhatpara is an assembly segment within the Barrackpore Lok Sabha constituency) in the byelections in 2019 necessitated by the resignation of his father as Bhatpara MLA after he won the Lok Sabha elections from Barrackpore.
Arjun Singh had won the Bhatpara Assembly seat for the Trinamool for four consecutive terms since 2001. His son Pawan defeated Mamata Banerjee’s close confidant and Saradha scam accused Madan Mitra from Bhatpara in the 2019 bypolls.
Singh’s switchover to the BJP from the Trinamool and his son’s victory over Madan Mitra from Bhatpara (which is adjacent to the Barrackpore Assembly seat) triggered vicious attacks on BJP activists and supporters in Barrackpore.
Arjun Singh and Pawan Singh survived murderous attacks on them many times, and the state government foisted many cases on Arjun Singh.
Over the past two years, Barrackpore has seen and suffered a lot of political violence. Clashes, often involving country-made weapons and bombs, between Trinamool and BJP supporters and activists have been common.
Such clashes have claimed a few lives as well, including that of BJP district committee member Manish Shukla on the evening of 4 October last year. Shukla, 28, was gunned down by alleged Trinamool goons while he was entering a party office.
Shukla’s father Chandramani, a reputable physician, is the BJP candidate from Barrackpore. His victory, he says, will not only be a fitting tribute to his slain son, but will also bring to an end the vicious cycle of attacks and counter-attacks that have tormented Barrackpore for the past two years.
Manish Shukla was close to Arjun Singh and followed him from the Trinamool to the BJP. Shukla had police bodyguards when he was with the Trinamool, but the police protection was withdrawn after he joined the BJP.
To many in Barrackpore, the 64-year-old Chandramani Shukla deserves support not only because he is a popular physician and a man who had to suffer the heartbreak of having to cremate his son, but also because he represents ‘nationalist’ forces.
Pitted against Chandramani Shukla is Bengali film director Raj Chakraborty, a political greenhorn who was handpicked by Mamata Banerjee since she could not find a suitable local leader from the faction-ridden Trinamool unit in Barrackpore.
Chakraborty, who has directed mostly mediocre remakes of hit Tamil and Telugu movies, comes across as a well-meaning but naive person. But he is burdened by his association with the Trinamool, a party that has lost a lot of goodwill here.
The Barrackpore Assembly seat, which is made of the neighbouring municipalities of Barrackpore and Titagarh, was won by Trinamool’s Shilabhadra Dutta in 2011 and 2016.
Dutta, along with Suvendu Adhikari, joined the BJP in December last year. He is now campaigning for Chandramani Shukla.
Many influential and key functionaries of the Trinamool in Barrackpore have joined the BJP over the last two years. This has weakened the party organisation, which is now a pale shadow of its former self in Barrackpore.
Raj Chakraborty is, thus, hobbled by a weak party organisation that is also ridden by factionalism and a lot of bad blood.
The most recent ‘mutiny’ against Banerjee from Barrackpore was by its former Lok Sabha MP Dinesh Trivedi.
Trivedi, who was once close to Banerjee and was her liaison man with other parties, was elected to the Rajya Sabha on a Trinamool ticket from Bengal after he lost the Lok Sabha elections to his former protege Arjun Singh.
But he resigned from the Trinamool after deploring and condemning the violence unleashed by his partymen on opposition cadres and resigned from the Rajya Sabha in February this year. He joined the BJP on 6 March this year.
Arjun Singh and Dinesh Trivedi have thrown their weight behind Chandramani Shukla, and that has given Shukla’s campaign a huge heft.
Hindus are a large majority (more than 80 per cent) in Barrackpore Assembly seat, and of them 40 per cent are Hindi or Bhojpuri-speaking.
This large section of the electorate stands completely alienated from the Trinamool. Not just because of Hindi-speaking Trinamool leaders like Arjun Singh and Dinesh Trivedi joining the BJP and the murder of Manish Shukla, but also because of the Trinamool’s vocal campaign against ‘outsiders’ from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
“The Trinamool has been dubbing us outsiders who have no place in Bengal. Our forefathers came to Bengal from UP and Bihar to work in the factories here. But now illegal Muslim migrants from Bangladesh have become dear to Mamata Banerjee and we are ‘outsiders’. This has hurt us deeply and there is no way we will support the Trinamool,” said Sushil Singh, a trader in Barrackpore town.
The Trinamool is also beset by anti-incumbency and, like other urban centres in the rest of Bengal, Barrackpore is also a civic mess that has not witnessed any real progress over the last 10 years.
Banerjee’s Muslim appeasement has also alienated large sections of the people here. It was in neighbouring Bhatpara that Banerjee stopped her convoy in end May 2019 (after the Lok Sabha elections) on hearing bystanders chanting ‘Jai Shree Ram’ slogans and, getting down from her SUV, abused them and ordered their arrest. Seven persons were subsequently detained by the police on the Trinamool supremo’s directive for chanting Jai Shree Ram.
That incident, which exposed the Trinamool chief’s predominant mercurial trait, still rankles people of Barrackpore.
Another failing of the Trinamool is in keeping its promise of reopening the many closed industrial units in Barrackpore and adjoining areas.
Banerjee had promised to get buyers who would infuse fresh capital and reopen the many closed industrial units. But none of them have reopened and, instead, lands where these units once stood and provided employment to thousands are being sold off to realtors.
The spurt in construction activities in Barrackpore has brought in the menace of Trinamool-run ‘syndicates’. Also, people here are fed up with the demand for ‘cut money’ by Trinamool operatives for everything from birth certificates to ration cards and getting building permissions.
But it is mainly the popular perception that Banerjee partonises and protects Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh and even Rohingyas that has marred Raj Chakraborty’s electoral prospects.
To the people of Barrackpore, the BJP is a ‘nationalist’ party while the Trinamool is a party that depends on the support of Bangladeshi Muslims and thus protects them.
“It is no secret that Mamata Banerjee finds Bhagwan Ram and his bhakts alien to Bengal, but embraces Bangladeshi Muslims and gives them Indian citizenship and all the benefits. This cannot go on,” said Dulal Mukherjee, owner of a catering firm here.
Mukherjee’s neighbour and close friend Pyarelal Shukla, whose son serves in the army, told Swarajya: “Misgovernance, failure to keep promises and even corruption can be forgiven. But not a supremely anti-national act like providing shelter to foreigners and jihadis who have made Bengal their safe haven”.
Rumi Guha, a teacher at a local kindergarten here, said: “People are angry with Mamata Banerjee for condoning corruption by her party colleagues, failing to create employment opportunities, failing to ensure economic progress and development, for the civic mess that this place is in and for doing little for Barrackpore’s infrastructure. But above all, people are very angry with her Muslim appeasement and her anti-Hindu attitude”.
Arjun Singh (the BJP Lok Sabha MP) says that Banerjee’s patronage of Bangladeshi Muslims for her petty political gains is seen by the people of Barrackpore as an anti-national act.
“Barrackpore has cradled revolts against the British and has been home to many revolutionaries like Surendranath Banerjee and Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay (who lived in Naihati that falls in Barrackpore sub-division). People here cannot tolerate acts by anyone which goes against the interests of the nation,” said Singh.
This reiteration of nationalistic credentials by the electorate of Barrackpore can hurt the Trinamool very badly at the hustings.
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