In Kakdwip area of the Sunderbans, a first-time voter has a Trinamool Congress (TMC) flag perched on his dilapidated house. But prod him and he would talk of his preference for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and say that he kept the TMC flag for “safety”.
“I rebuilt my house on my own without any help from the government,” he says, a stand echoed by many local residents. They say those connected to the TMC got relief money in the aftermath of Cyclone Amphan that ravaged the area last May, while others — mostly poor residents — were left in the lurch.
“A political Amphan will come to the Sunderbans on April 1 and blow the Trinamool Congress away,” people in a crowd say in unison, voicing their anger over not getting relief material in the Amphan aftermath.
Four seats in the Sunderbans go to polls in round two (April 1) of the eight-phase elections in West Bengal. The area is considered a TMC stronghold. But this time there is anger on the ground because of the handling of the Amphan crisis, the alleged looting of relief material by local TMC leaders and a general lack of development that is evident here. The BJP is focusing on these issues to make an impact in the area.
Moti Lal Das, a resident of the Patharpratima assembly constituency, works on a fishing boat. He is happy about the Rs 6,000 a year promised in the BJP manifesto for fishermen. Reena Das, another voter, says she has heard about the promises made by the BJP for women, such as free medical treatment. Das, who has a two-year-old granddaughter, also knows of the BJP’s promises to pay for education expenses of the girl child and to provide some cash doles till the time of a woman getting married.
But there are those still backing chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s TMC. For example, Sudipto Pal, an electric rickshaw driver in Patharpratima. “It is not that everyone was deprived of Amphan relief. Some did get it. But those who didn’t are really angry and vocal,” he says.
On Sunday, BJP leader Suvendu Mukherjee campaigned in Patharpratima and Sagar seats, urging people to punish the TMC. Union home minister Amit Shah, defence minister Rajnath Singh and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, too, have campaigned in the Sunderbans.
All four assembly seats here — Gosaba, Kakdwip, Sagar and Patharpratima in South 24-Parganas district — have been won by the TMC since 2011. The party also won Mathurapur and Jaynagar Lok Sabha constituencies — the four assembly segments fall under these two seats — with a big margin of two-three lakh votes in the 2019 national elections.
The TMC has a good organisational structure and offices in this region, unlike the BJP, which is trying to find a foothold here. However, Cyclone Amphan and its aftermath may dent the TMC’s long-standing dominance. But undeterred by the perceived anger on the ground and talks of anti-incumbency, the TMC has given tickets to the sitting MLAs on all four seats. The BJP is, however, banking on the public sentiment of anger to defeat the incumbents this time around.