Discontent sweeping Jangalmahal, likely to push BJP ahead of TMC
Medinipur/Jhargram: In the former Maoist stronghold of Jangalmahal in West Bengal, it is the substantial votebank of the Left Front, along with that of the far-Left parties, which is likely to push the BJP ahead of the TMC in the 2019 general election.
Once a formidable fort of the Left, Jhargram and Medinipur seats in Jangalmahal were won by Trinamool Congress in 2014. But discontent with the ruling party in West Bengal is again sweeping the region.
Several people PTI spoke to alleged only those who are associated with the TMC get benefits of the programmes run by the Centre and the West Bengal government.
Others said the state government is apathetic to them and this has led to a shift in the loyalty of voters as the Left has reduced itself to a minor player in the Lok Sabha election.
The shift towards the BJP has become more pronounced in the past two years.
In Jhargram, BJP has won all former Maoist strongholds in recent polls. It won Lalgarh, Belpahari, Jamboni, Gopiballavpur, Nayagram and Sankrail gram panchayats.
"It is tragic, but true," said Mohisho Mahato, once a CPI(ML) supporter in Lalgarh village in Jhargram district.
He said he will vote for the BJP. "The enemy of an enemy is a friend."
Both Jhargram and Medinipur, which go to polls on May 12, form the Jangalmahal region along with Bankura and Purulia districts.
Jhargram, traditionally a Left bastion, was won by TMC's Uma Soren in 2014. Soren wrested the seat from Pulin Bihari Baske of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), ending the Left's 42-year domination.
Medinipur seat was a stronghold of the Communist Party of India until 2014, when the TMC defeated it. TMC's Sandhya Roy defeated CPI's Probodh Panda, who had represented the constituency since 2001.
Before Panda, the CPI held the Medinipur (general) seat since 1980.
"Most people here are basically far-Left by ideology. We voted for TMC last time because we had to survive. Things are different now. It was literally a fight to stay alive," Mahato said.
In this election, TMC has nominated Congress defector Manas Bhunia from Medinipur. He is locked in a close fight with BJP state president Dilip Ghosh.
In Jhargram, TMC has fielded Beerbaha Soren and he is likely to find his match in CPI(M) candidate Deblina Hembram.
"This was the time when the Left could have made its mark given the fact that there is immense anger among people against TMC. Unfortunately, it has failed. A lack of leadership and organisational structure has really harmed the Left Front," said Gurudas Ghosh, a farmer who has no qualms in admitting that he is voting for the BJP to remove Mamata Banerjee.
For Manash Bera, who runs a 'paan' shop in Karnagarh in Medinipur, it's the preservation of the Left ideology that he has grown up on, which has now pushed him towards the saffron party.
"The only way I can protect my ideology is by voting the BJP. Once Mamata goes, this reign of violence and intimidation will stop. I go to TMC rallies, but I will vote for BJP. However in my heart, I am Left forever," he said.
The TMC candidate from Medinipur, Bhunia, however doesn't agree that people are upset with his party and says the inroads made by the BJP was because the Congress and the Left abdicated their responsibility.
"The Congress and the Left have become platforms to abuse Mamata Banerjee, they have failed in their role as opposition to the BJP. They gave BJP space to grow.
"The Left couldn't keep its own support base intact. BAM (Left Front) has been turned into RAM. The godowns of RAM are being supplied by BAM," said Bhuniya, who joined TMC towards the end of 2017, and is said to have taken a number of Congress workers in the area with him.
BJP's Ghosh sees the saffron surge as the end of the beginning of the TMC.
"I don't have to say much. Go around the villages and you will see how BJP has gained the trust of people," he said.
Apoorva Bose, who works at a post-office and met this correspondent in Burisol village, a few minutes walk from the Jangalmahal Bhadutala railway station, alleged he was beaten up by Trinamool workers in the run up to the election, and vowed never to vote for the party again.
"What have they done for us? The cycles they gave us were in such a shape that many refused to take them and those who did take them had to spend money on repairs. TMC workers have forced people to pay to get benefits. No one I know has got 100 days of work as promised by her (Mamata Banerjee)," he claimed.
In Medinipur, a CPI(ML) leader said he understands that Left voters have nowhere to go, but he and his party are working in interior areas to resurrect the ideology.
"We work in groups, meet people and assure them that we have not abdicated them. We are here to stay and we will come back," he said but refused to give his name.
He said he is a physiotherapist in the city but his workplace was once in the jungles of Jhargram where he fears to go now.
"We have to wait, bide time. Be patient. Now, our target is to remove Mamata. So we vote BJP as it is the only force now which can withstand Mamata. Next, we remove BJP," Mahato said, looking out of his mud house with hope. "Only the Left will rule Bengal."