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|September 30, 1999||
Trinamul's David seeks to cut down Goliath Somnath's victory margin
Arup Chanda in Bolpur
Communist Party of India-Marxist heavyweight Somnath Chatterjee will not be overjoyed if he merely wins the October 3 election in West Bengal's Bolpur parliamentary constituency. He has pulled out all stops to win by a record margin.
But then, winning coming naturally to the dapper 70-year-old Chatterjee, leader of the CPI-M Parliamentary Party in the Lok Sabha and one of India's leading barristers. Contesting the Bolpur seat for the sixth time since 1985 which he won by 99,990 votes, he has progressively increased his margin of victory to 168,000 votes in 1989, 226,624 in 1991, and 253,646 in 1996 against Congress rivals. Last year, he trounced the Trinamul Congress candidate by 261,092 votes.
He came to Bolpur, after losing to debutante Mamta Banerjee in the red bastion of Jadavpur in 1984 -- thanks to the sympathy wave for the Congress after Indira Gandhi's assassination. The very next year, the CPI-M fielded him in a by-election in Bolpur.
Significantly, it is Banerjee's Trinamul Congress, which just might frustrate Chatterjee's ambition to annex Bolpur by an even higher margin than he did last year, when he polled 480,645 votes, the TC 219,253 and the Congress 100,091 votes.
The Trinamul's Suniti Chattoraj, formerly of the Congress, is confident of annexing the entire share of Congress votes polled last year. By his calculation, Chatterjee's victory margin would be automatically reduced to around 150,000 votes -- far below the hoped-for record
Chatterjee greeted Chattoraj's electoral calculation with his characteristic wry grin familiar to millions of television viewers in India. "Poor fellow doesn't know that hundreds of Congress workers, particularly in Muslim pockets, have crossed over to the CPI-M to inflict a crushing defeat on the communal Trinamul Congress," he pointed out.
Whether Chatterjee succeeds in setting a new record or not will become clear on October 6, but his victory is more or less assured. Even Bolpur Trinamul Congress leader, Aidyanath Roy, said: "If the CPI-M loses in Bolpur, then it is going to lose the remaining 41 seats in the state as well, which is impossible."
The Bolpur seat covers the predominantly agricultural Birbhum district and, significantly enough, Santiniketan, the university town founded by Rabindranath Tagore. The electorate is demanding industries to cope with rising unemployment, and better civic infrastructure like roads, hospitals and schools, besides funds to revitalise the stagnant agricultural sector.
The voters are banking on Chatterjee to set up new industries as he is the chairman of the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation. But he candidly admits that nobody is interested in investing because of irresponsible trade unionism which has resulted in the closure of the Ahmedpur Sugar Mill, the Chinpai Explosives Factory and the Suri Mini Steel Plant.
Earlier, there were apprehensions that Chatterjee would refuse to contest from Bolpur this time in protest against the attack launched on him by a section of the CPI-M after his efforts to install a Jyoti Basu-led coalition government in New Delhi, when Mulayam Singh refused to support Sonia Gandhi as prime minister.
The Congress candidate, Sushil Banerjee, who has a medical practice in nearby Sainthia, cuts a sorry figure in the poll fray. He admits he was not interested in the nomination but he could not turn down a request from district Congress president Nihar Dutta. There are very few Congress posters and banners in the sprawling constituency.
The shrewd Chattoraj, on the other hand, is using Sunday's poll to strengthen his position in the Trinamul Congress -- even if he goes down fighting to the Communist stalwart. There are many claimants for Bolpur's Suri segment in the 2001 assembly election, but Chattoraj is sure of bagging the prestigious seat if he performs reasonably well against Chatterjee this time.
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