Nimtita Rajbari is a palatial bungalow in Murshidabad, once the cradle of royalty in Bengal. It was built by powerful zamindar Dwarikanath Choudhury in 1866 and rose to become the cultural competitor of Kolkata under his son Mahendra Narayan who also established a ‘Hindu Theatre’ near the opulent structure.
Treachery of time and the rising Ganga washed away the ‘Hindu Theatre’ along with much of the Rajbari’s grandeur in 1940s and 50s. Having lost zamindari in 1955, the Choudhurys’ interest in the property too faded over time. Satyajit Ray’s 1958 film Jalsaghar perfectly chronicled the highs and lows of the Rajbari. Filmed on location, it even showed the zamindar immersed in music and arts instead of saving his flood-hit properties.
The dilapidated structure stands till date, struggling to remind onlookers of its golden days. Not too far away, another Chowdhury is desperate to bring back the golden days of a different entity that has lost its sheen in Murshidabad. But it’s easier said than done for Congress’ Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury as two seats in Murshidabad — Samserganj and Jangipur — head to bypolls along with Bhabanipur on September 30.
The Congress doesn’t have a candidate in any of these seats. It has struggled to get one in Samserganj, is supporting Left Front candidate in Jangipur and has bowed out of Bhabanipur as a ‘courtesy’ to Mamata Banerjee who is contesting from there.
Jakir Hossain is the Trinamool Congress candidate in Jangipur, while Amirul Islam is contesting as the party’s candidate from Samserganj. The BJP has fielded Sujit Das in Jangipur, and Milan Ghosh in Samserganj.
Speaking to News18.com, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Congress Parliamentary Party leader in the Lok Sabha, blamed “BJP’s communal politics” for the Congress waning grip in Murshidabad. “I belong to a framework of secular politics. We became the victim of sharp polarisation in Bengal. We are suffering from the current political circumstances in a society which has been polarised. I belong to a place (Murshidabad) that has 70% Muslims. The Congress party is not fading. What happened was… after the ‘communal campaigning’ by the BJP and Narendra Modi in recently concluded Assembly elections, Muslims thought to vote for Mamata,” he said.
“Actually, Muslims voted to defeat Narendra Modi, not to secure Mamata Banerjee’s win. The last nail in the coffin was firing at Sitalkuchi in Cooch Behar where four Muslims were killed. This was enough to consolidate the Muslim votes against the BJP and it caused irreparable damage in Bengal’s politics when it comes to Congress party. Mamata Banerjee became the incidental beneficiary of the situation,” Chowdhury added.
Asked why the Congress was not fielding a candidate in Samserganj, a Congress stronghold, Chowdhury said, “We wanted to field Jainur Rahman from the seat, but he is unwilling to contest. The reason is his brother Khalilur Rahman is a Trinamool Congress MP (from Jangipur). In Samserganj, we have a good prospect of winning. We are trying to convince him… let’s see.”
Jainur is the twin of TMC MP and Jangipur organisation district president Khalilur Rahman. Both Jainul and Khalilur run the family bidi business.
The Samserganj Assembly constituency lies in Murshidabad and is part of the Malda South Lok Sabha constituency. In 2016, Samserganj had a total of 1,94,128 registered electors, and in 2021, the figure went up to 2,37,389 voters. A total of 285 booths will receive voters. The constituency is made of 81% Muslims and 18% Hindus.
In 2016, the voter turnout in Samserganj was recorded at 81.92 percent. CPM’s Touab Ali had lost to Trinamool Congress’ Amirul Islam by a slender margin of 1,780 votes.
The Jangipur Assembly constituency also lies in Murshidabad district and is a part of the Jangipur Lok Sabha constituency. In 2016, Jangipur had a total of 2,14,445 registered electors. In 2021, it has 2,55,998 voters, including 1,25,822 women. The voter turnout in 2016 was recorded at 83.82%. The Jangipur electorate is divided into 57% Muslims and 43% Hindus.
In 2016, CPM candidate Somnath Singha Ray had lost to Trinamool Congress nominee Jakir Hossain by 20,000 votes.
Speaking to News18, BJP candidate from Samserganj Milan Ghosh says the Congress’ fate mirrors that of the Nimtita Rajbari.
“Nimtita Rajbari falls under my constituency. It was once famous for its musical events. Now the Rajbari and the Hindu Theatre have become history. The Congress’ condition is similar nowadays. They surrendered before the ruling TMC. The problems people used to face during the golden period of Rajbari still exist. Earlier, it was the ruler, then came the Congress, then the Left and now the TMC is exploiting the people,” Ghosh said.
“This constituency is the most backward area in Bengal. Nearly 60% people are beedi workers and a few are farmers. The ruling party workers are exploiting them by paying maximum Rs 150 for rolling 1,000 beedis. There are no jobs here so most people have migrated to other states. Majority of the voters here are Muslims and face a lot of hardships,” he added.
Invoking Syama Prasad Mukherjee, the founder of BJP’s predecessor Bharatiya Jana Sangh, Ghosh said voters in Samserganj should be thankful that Mukherjee stopped plans to give the area along with Dhuliyan to East Pakistan.
BJP candidate in Jangipur, Sujit Das, said the anti-infiltration sentiment will help his part in the bypolls. “The chances of BJP winning the bypoll from this seat are high. There are nearly 43% Hindu voters here and they are against illegal infiltration. Most of them are supporters of the BJP and are against TMC’s appeasement politics.”
Hitting back, his TMC rival Jakir Hossain said BJP candidates would end up losing their deposits. “During Covid-19 lockdown, I served people irrespective of their caste and creed. The BJP believes in playing communal card but I am a secular person and I believe in serving people under the guidance of Mamata Banerjee. We are certainly going to win both the seats.”
Polling in all three seats will take place on September 30 and counting of votes will be held on October 3.