Ruling TMC’s new recruit and former India batsman Manoj Tiwary will face a tough political pitch in Howrah’s Shibpur assembly constituency as his opponents are are also formidable players adept at bowling googlies. The BJP has fielded Dr Rathin Chakrabarty, a TMC turncoat who was the former mayor of Howrah and severed ties with the party ahead of the elections, alleging he was not allowed to develop the industrial city. The Left Front has nominated veteran Forward Bloc leader Dr Jagannath Bhattacharyya who is trying his luck for the fourth time from the seat.
Tiwary (35), a right-handed batsman who represented India in 12 one-day internationals and three T20s, already received a blow in his debut poll battle as three-time TMC MLA from the constituency Jatu Lahiri joined the BJP after being denied a ticket for the assembly elections. Lahiri, an 84-year-old politician who has a hold over the constituency, had also won the seat in 1991 and 1996 as a Congress nominee.
The TMC’s cricketer candidate also faces a challenge due to the party’s internal feud that surfaced publicly as a few senior leaders in the district and a former councillor held demonstrations after their names did not find a place in the candidates’ list. In 2011, Lahiri on a TMC ticket had defeated Bhattacharyya, the Forward Bloc candidate, by around 46,000 votes, and was re-elected five years later though the margin fell to 27,000.
The BJP was nowhere in the contest, securing just 3,967 votes in 2011 and 13,363 in 2016. A turnaround was witnessed in the 2019 general elections when a saffron surge helped then BJP’s Howrah Sadar candidate Rantideb Sengupta to secure 66,644 votes from the assembly segment, emerging as the main challenger to incumbent TMC MP Prasun Banerjee, a former India football team captain.
The TMC got 75,355 votes from the constituency in the last Lok Sabha polls, while the CPI(M) could only muster 19,933 in its favour and secured the third position. Days after Chakrabarty crossed over to the BJP, posters were put up against the former city mayor in various places in central Howrah, calling him an ”opportunist and traitor”. Trinamool Congress workers allegedly threw ink on his picture.
”They put up posters against me in several places here. (But) People of Howrah know what efforts I have made as the mayor of the city. ”A section of TMC leaders in the district, who do not want development and hatched conspiracy against me, are the traitors and opportunists. I was not allowed to work,” the BJP’s doctor candidate said.
The 51-year-old saffron party nominee, son of renowned homoeopath Dr Bholanath Chakrabarty, appears confident of pulling off a coup in the urban constituency. He received a shot in the arm in his campaign when Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah held meetings here.
The party’s central leadership perhaps sees an opportunity to score from the constituency which has a negligible minority vote base. Tiwary, the former Bengal cricket team’s skipper, said he wanted ”to play long innings” in politics and his foray into public life would be a ”lifelong commitment”.
Pointing to some qualities from his cricketing career that would stand him in good stead in the political arena, he said the game had taught him to become a better human being and make fewer mistakes. The ruling party was also leaving no stone unturned to retain the seat as Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee held an election meeting in the constituency.
TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee, who is her nephew, too held a roadshow in support of the party’s debutant nominee. The ruling party is, however, grappling with allegations of ’syndicate raj’, atrocities and encouragement to illegal constructions.
”There is resentment among people on unplanned development projects. People sent out a strong message against filling up water bodies in the name of parks and beautification. Several projects have been undertaken for the improvement of the drainage system, roads and supply of drinking water but these still remain an issue in parts of the constituency,” Saheli Majumder, an IT professional and resident of Balitikuri area, said. Supported by the Left-Congress-Indian Secular Front, the Forward Bloc nominee is facing a herculean task of regaining his party’s lost ground.
”As a doctor, I maintain a round-the-clock connection with the people who are fed up with the TMC and the BJP. They misguided the locals for their vested political interests.Electors are annoyed with the two parties as they have done nothing for them and will bring back the Left force in the constituency,” Bhattacharyya said.
Over 2.33 lakh voters in the assembly segment will reject the TMC’s ”khela hobe” (game will happen) and the BJP’s ”Jai Shri Ram” slogans as they will vote for the creation of jobs and industries, Bhattacharyya, an orthopaedic surgeon, claimed. The Shibpur constituency will go to the hustings in the fourth phase of the assembly elections on April 10. The vote count will be on May 2.