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|September 30, 1999||
Constituency/ Calcutta South
Mamta all set to make it 4 times in a row
If popularity is any criterion for crossing the electoral hurdle, Trinamul Congress chief Mamta Banerjee is all set to make it four times in a row from Calcutta South in the last phase of the general election on October 3.
The firebrand leader is so confident of retaining her seat that she has preferred to devote more time in campaigning for her party colleagues, who are seeking their electoral fortune in 28 of the 42 constituencies in the state. ''The voters are with us because they are frustrated with both the ruling Left Front and the Congress, and the number is increasing every year,'' Banerjee said.
Banerjee, who has emerged over the years as a symbol of protest against the Left Front, has attracted a lot of disillusioned activists from both the ruling front and the Congress to her party fold. But her opponents allege that her image as an epitome of protest has been built by the media and that has helped her cash in on the sentiments of a predominantly anti-Left electorate.
'Mamta minus media=0,' says a CPI-M poster in Ballygunj area of the constituency. The Trinamul Congress counters it with graffiti depicting the CPI-M symbol -- hammer and sickle on the Congress's hand symbol. 'Both are same, don't trust them,' it says.
Banerjee, however, denies the allegation and she has statistics in her favour. She had not only secured a majority of votes in Alipore, Chowringhee and Rashbehari assembly segments, but had also stormed the red bastions of Ballygunj, Dhakuria, Sonarpur and Tollygunj in the last Lok Sabha election. In the last election, Banerjee's lead over her CPI-M rival Prasanta Sur, a former state minister, was more than 38,000 in the Sonarpur assembly segment, 27,000 votes in Dhakuria, 17,000 in Ballygunj and 29,000 in the Tollygunj assembly segment. She also maintained a lead of 39,000 votes each in the Alipore and Rashbehari assembly segments and 22,000 votes in the Chowringhee segment, all these culminating into the victory margin of 224,081 over Sur.
But her challenger, Professor Subhankar Chakraborty, who replaces Sur this time, is not afraid of these statistics. ''I am a fighter. I grew up in a slum in this very constituency to become a teacher and I am sure that poverty can't always prevent merit from getting due recognition. This is the message I am trying to spread among the electorate,'' Professor Chakraborty says.
Professor Chakraborty, who was vice-chancellor of the Rabindrabharati University before becoming a Left Front candidate, is projecting himself not simply as a CPI-M candidate but also a teacher.
Banerjee is contesting the Lok Sabha election for the sixth time after being for the first time in 1984, when she defeated CPI-M stalwart Somnath Chatterjee in Jadavpur constituency. But she lost the Jadavpur seat to Malini Bhattacharya of the CPI-M in 1989. She changed her constituency to Calcutta South in 1991 and since Then, she has been winning the seat. This time Banerjee's rivals from the CPI-M and the Congress are debutants.
The contest in this prestigious constituency will, however, remain mostly confined to Banerjee and Professor Chakraborty, with Congress candidate Partha Roy Chowdhury earning the also-ran status before the polls itself. Last year, Congress candidate and former Union minister Saugata Roy lost his deposit in the same constituency.
The campaign in this constituency has gained momentum with the approaching poll date. The campaign, however, is on the usual pattern and not much different from that in other constituencies in the state. While the CPI-M is accusing the Trinamul Congress of helping the ''communal'' BJP in the state and ridiculing Banerjee's 'Bengal package', the Trinamul Congress is promising a stable government at the Centre and urging the electorate to end 22 years of Left Front 'misrule' in the state.
Altogether 10 candidates are in the fray in the constituency and of them three are women. Besides Banerjee, the two other women candidates -- Bandana Biswas and Kabita Mukherjee -- are Independents.
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