Siliguri: Thousands of youths poured into the streets of Siliguri in West Bengal on April 13, as incumbent MLA Ashok Bhattacharya landed for his election campaign. The five-time MLA is again representing the Left Front in the constituency in the Assembly elections. The roadshow was joined by Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s central committee member Sujan Chakraborty, youth leader Shatarup Ghosh and football star Baichung Bhutia.
Notably, football star Baichung Bhutia had contested in the last Assembly elections in 2016, but lost to Ashok Bhattacharya by over 15,000 votes. This time, Bhutia has extended his support to the incumbent CPI(M) MLA and stated that Bhattacharya is a politician with the cleanest records in the state. Bhutia also claimed that Bhattacharya has popularity among people in both the hills and plains region in Siliguri.
Bhattacharya’s election campaign is centred around the development of Siliguri and he has taken the utmost caution to not disturb the peace in the trading hub. In addition to the roads and infrastructure—which have reportedly seen a remarkable development under the veteran leader—he is also focussing on countering the BJP’s communal polarisation campaign in the region.
He told NewsClick that he is confident of keeping his winning streak intact in the region, owing to the door-to-door campaign in various bastis across the city, where his majority voters hail from. The CPI(M) leader added that except the upmarket areas which house Marwari residents, even the Hindi speaking population too will surely vote for the Left Front this time.
Criticising the BJP’s attempts to polarise the region, Bhattacharya said that even though Siliguri has its own brand of identity issues but hostility between groups by pitting them against each other has been the mainstay of BJP’s polarising campaign.
Earlier in 2014, when a strife had broken out between Nepalis and Bengalis in the region, it was the Left which played the most important role in containing it, he claimed.
Aminuddin, an electric rickshaw operator from Siliguri, said, “People are aware of the BJP’s polarising campaign, but our vote will go to Ashok Bhattacharya, as he has ensured peace over the past several years.” He added that Siliguri is an oasis in North Bengal, wherein the presence of different communities has been the reason behind simmering tensions.
A senior businessman from the Hakim Para area told NewsClick, “We all know Siliguri is situated in the strategic Chicken’s neck region which will go up in flames without Bhattacharya. Peace is a big draw in this region and it is only owing to Bhattacharya.”
Citing statistical records, he said the voting pattern in the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls are different and that the Left Front has a bright chance of winning the constituency again.
Later, while addressing a press conference in Siliguri, the veteran leader raised concerns about the Election Commission’s partial treatment towards West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee while letting go of BJP leaders’ hate speech. He demanded the arrest of Rahul Sinha and Dilip Ghosh for making communal statements regarding the Sitalkuchi incident. Meanwhile, the EC has banned CM Banerjee from campaigning for 24 hours due to her remark about gheraoing central forces.
Flanked CPI(M) Darjeeling’s district secretary Jibesh Sarkar, Bhattacharya also condemned the security arrangements of the Siliguri police. Reportedly, for 3 hours the entire Hashmi Chowk – a busy intersection of the city – was cordoned off by the Siliguri police for a meeting by Home Minister Amit Shah. As a result, Bhattacharya alleged, three election meetings scheduled by the CPI(M) were cancelled.
He also questioned the partial boycott of CPI(M)’s ground breaking campaign by a section of the Bengal media and highlighted that even huge marches are ignored by the media.
The ruling Trinamool Congress has fielded former Congress leader Omprakash Mishra from the seat, whereas BJP is represented by another turncoat Sankar Ghosh.