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Key contest: Pranab Mukherjee vs Abul Hasnat Khan

Pradeep Gooptu in Kolkata | May 08, 2004 13:14 IST

For Pranab Mukherjee of the Congress, contesting the Jangipur seat in West Bengal could be a dream come true, or his worst nightmare. Hardly a man known for his liking for the hustle and bustle of elections, Mukherjee finds himself pitted against Abul Hasnat Khan of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), a two-time member of Parliament from the seat.

To be fair, Mukherjee has received an unexpected shot in the arm from the decision of the Trinamool Congress to field Shish Mohammad, a candidate who is perceived to be a light-weight and whose campaign has been surprisingly low-key.

Mukherjee's disadvantage is that many in the state see the Congress as a party working far to close with the Left Front in general, and the CPM in particular, to make any difference.

As one Congress member said, "If a party worker gets roughed up by the CPM you cannot expect the leadership to come to your side."

The convergence of interests of the Congress and the CPM in central politics is too well known to be ignored.

Mukherjee has refrained from criticising the CPM of high-handedness or oppression of Congress workers, which has been the central refrain of the Trinamool.

Mukherjee's second problem is that he is on unfamiliar terrain. The constituency is hardly known to him.

Political analysts believe he has been thrust there because the Congress has a very effective leader in Adhir Chowdhury, who dominates the region and sat in the outgoing Lok Sabha from the neighbouring constituency of Berhampore.

But despite this, Mukherjee's unfamiliarity with the crucial issues in the seat, like the erosion caused by the river Ganga, or even the plight of the countless bidi-making families who dominate the seat, are well known. So, he has chosen to speak on development, urging voters to back the Congress because the CPM has neglected the area.

For Khan of the CPM, the problems are simple -- the constituency lacks proper infrastructure, with roads, medical centres and educational institutions all in different states of decay, if not terminal decline.

Though backed by the state government, he is a faceless cadre of the CPM in Parliament and hardly a recognisable face in the state.

While the Trinamool attacks him for oppressing their workers, Mukherjee has been criticising him on the issue of lack of development of the constituency.

Though just a few hundred kilometres from the commercial centre of Kolkata, Jangipur is very much a bidi-making backwater.

As for Shish Mohammad of the Trinamool, he is facing problems in selling the age-old party slogan of throwing out the CPM to end their oppression.

He has not received much support from the central leadership, even as the Congress brought party president Sonia Gandhi to the region to campaign. Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee is far to worried about seats in south Bengal to devote attention to the central part of the state.


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