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West Bengal Assembly Elections: TMC, Left parties battle it out for Jangalmahal

By: Sougata Mukhopadhyay

CNN-IBN

Last Updated: April 03, 2016, 12:53 IST

West Bengal Assembly Elections: TMC, Left parties battle it out for Jangalmahal

The first phase will have two polling dates beginning April 4 and April 11.

Erstwhile Maoist hotbed, the Jangalmahal areas, will go to polls in the first phase polls on Monday. The region, which saw extreme political violence between 2008 and 2011, has been the focus of the government's development activities with 7 super specialty hospitals, over 400 water retention projects and subsidised food provisions in place.

In Lalgarh, West Midnapore which is the former Maoist hotbed, metalled roads, a bridge across the Kangsabati river, a government college, even a model school is proof of the developmental progress that has taken place.

Residents of the district have praised the work done by the government. "I am happy that we would no longer need to rush to Midnapore for getting admitted in hospital.

All facilities are now available here. My children will now be able to study in schools and colleges in Lalgarh", said Dinabandhu Maiti, a resident, Lalgarh.

CM Mamata Banerjee's real achievement however seems to have been trying to bring former Maoist sympathisers into her party fold.

Manoj Mahato, former PCPA activist also heaped praises on the state government. "The present government has fulfilled most of the demands which people made when they resorted to agitation movements. That's why people are satisfied and that's why peace has returned", he said.

The development activities of the Mamata Banerjee government in these erstwhile Maoist hotbeds have been significant.However, a lot remains to be achieved to percolate the benefits of these achievements down to the last of the marginalised people living here.

In the neighbouring constituency of Jhargram there are some hiccups in the development work. A school in the region has yet to get a sciencee lab.

The Baitasri Gopal High School was elevated to Higher Secondary level in 2011. But it took five years to get the first batch of science students, only six of them. The reason being that the school is yet to get a science lab.

Niladri Shekhar Banerjee, headmaster, Baitasri Gopal High School, Jhargram said, "Sudents and guardians look for science laboratory when they come for admission. Since we don't have one, we are facing problems in getting students at the higher secondary level."

In Nayagram, another former Maoist stronghold, a bridge over the Suvarnarekha river was recently inaugurated by Mamata Banerjee. The area now boasts an ITI college, a general college, a super speciality hospital and even a stadium, all built in the last two years.

TMC candidate Dulal Murmu from Nayagram backs the development claims in the region. "Mamata Banerjee's claim that Jungalmahal is smiling is based on facts. Ever sinceIndependence areas like Nayagram, Gopiballavpur, Jhargram and Binpur have never witnessed such developments. People here never believed it was possible to usher in so much development here which we have achieved in the last five years."

The CPM, which sacrificed this seat for the Congress, dismisses the development work as superficial. Bhootnath Soren, CPM leader, Nayagram said, "During the Left era, we focussed on the economic empowerment of the tribals.

The superficial grandeur was not our priority. We built hostels for students to support their school education. Today they have to pay to stay in those hostels. As a result these hostels are on the verge of shutdown since the families can't afford to pay. I am a teacher myself and I am pretty sure that jungal mahal is not smiling."

In Salboni, the 35,000 crore integrated steel plant of the JSW group in Salboni was one of the of Left Front's most showcased industrial projects. The scaled down plant, from 10 million tonnes to 800 tonnes, was finally inaugurated in January 2016, after being in limbo for 7 years.

Aditya Mahato, land seller at JSW Project said, "This was supposed to be the biggest steel plant of Asia. Instead it is now becoming a cement factory of a much smaller scale. We are happy in the sense that instead of nothing, we are still getting something."

"I don't think the project will have any impact on votes, neither positive nor negative", said Parsishkar Mahato, Salboni resident.

It is amid these contradictory undercurrents of hope and despair that some of the most backward areas in Bengal will kickstart the poll process with the TMC government hoping to win this battle.

first published:April 03, 2016, 10:39 IST
last updated:April 03, 2016, 12:53 IST