Chandannagar, located on the western banks of the River Hooghly, is a sleepy former French colony. Boulevards to Gothic style buildings reminisce the French hold over their former colony with most of them now converted into government offices. But it’s so hard to believe that this serene and quiet town is where the acrimony between the BJP and TMC began.
In 2017, the landscape of the town changed when Dilip Ghosh, who is now the State BJP chief, took on Mamata Banerjee against her angst over a few boys chanting Jai Shri Ram slogans to tease her. That was also the year when the first BJP office came up in Chandannagar.
Ram has suddenly become a political issue in this town, which is known for Ma Jagadhatri who is an avatar of Goddess Durga and is revered by Bengalis.
While still a TMC stronghold, the BJP has made inroads into the town that is famous for the ‘Adima temple’ dedicated to the goddess, in the name of Lord Ram.
In the last Lok Sabha elections, Locket Chatterjee from the BJP, won from Hooghly under which Chandannagar falls. But the MLA is from the TMC.
There are a few BJP posters here and the workers allege that often they have to hide their identity for fear of being attacked by the TMC workers.
In fact, as the news18 team travelled through a village, a few TMC workers stopped us to enquire about whether we were from the BJP, as we stopped to speak to villagers.
For the TMC, it’s very clear that in this town where Dilip Ghosh sowed the seeds of Hindutva agenda of the BJP, no outsider should be allowed to come in.
At the Burrabazar, the main shopping hub of Chandannagar, the 82-year-old Nantu Das who saw the events unfold in 2017 said: “Here Ram is not an issue. But it’s also a fact that the BJP has begun to make inroads but religion should not be allowed to be the factor.”
Chandannagar is also called the hub of lights. It’s famous for the light industry which is an integral part during Durga Pujo festivals and New Year celebrations.
Pampering of this industry by the TMC made the party stronger, but now BJP is making massive inroads in the region. But as we negotiate the congested lanes, it’s easy to see that Chandannagar wants more. Water problems, lack of sanitation in the villages and need for more jobs are expected to be the main election issues this time.
“What works in the Lok Sabha need not work in the State elections. We want to go out and work and we need jobs,“ says 23-year-old Sushant from the Khalisani college.
Sushant also says, “We want our Bengali culture to be protected. So we like the fact that the political parties are fighting over it. But nothing is more important than getting jobs.”
Hooghly has been the focus of the top BJP leaders and their hope is that after capturing the seat in the Lok Sabha, all the 7 Assembly seats go to the BJP as well.
BJP MP Locket Chatterjee is parked here and is very aggressive on the ground. She is hands on with the handful of BJP workers here. The brief given to her from her bosses is simple. She has to capture the Hooghly belt. It’s expected that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and senior leaders will visit the district. Singur falls in the district and along with Nandigram, it’s been the base of Mamata Bannerjee’s politics. And capturing the Hooghly belt would be a big battle won. The hope is that Lord Ram bails them out in a town which believes strongly in Ma Jagadhatri.