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In north Bengal, netas 'dream' as voters struggle

Last updated on: April 20, 2011 10:33 IST

In north Bengal, netas 'dream' as voters struggle

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Indrani Roy Mitra in Haldibari (West Bengal)

Indrani Roy Mitra visits Haldibari in North Bengal's Coochbehar district and realises that between political strategies and 'illogical' high hopes of leaders, lies the realm of the unattended, struggling voters.

Elections in India are a great generator of dreams. For, when it happens, all political parties dream big that at times border on the illogical.

While touring parts of North Bengal during the first phase of elections in West Bengal on Monday, one was overwhelmed by varying notions of several political outfits.

Complete Coverage: Assembly Elections 2011

While the Communist Party of India-Marxist loyalists claimed their party would win comfortably in North Bengal, the Trinamool-Congress alliance supporters seemed almost certain of ushering in a 'change' in governance in West Bengal as a whole.

In the hills, however, some were pretty sure of three Gorkha Janmukti Morcha candidates winning by good margins.

The only political party which did not get a mention even once happens to be the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Yet to recover from the confusion that ensued from these interactions, on Monday, we left for Haldibari in Coochbehar district from Siliguri to gauge the political temperature of that area.

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Image: A Border Security Force jawan guards the Indo-Bangladesh border at Khalpara in Haldibari
Photographs: Indrani Roy Mitra/Redifff.com
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Coochbehar has been the stronghold of the Left

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Coochbehar district is spread across 387 square km. It used to be a state before independence and the name is derived from the natives Koch Rajbongshi tribe.

Coochbehar district has nine constituencies in these assembly elections -- Coochbehar North, Coochbehar South, Dinhata, Mathabhanga, Mekhliganj, Natabari, Sitai, Sitalkuchi and Tufanganj.

Of these, Mekhliganj, Mathabhanga, Coochbehar North, Sitalkuchi and Sitai constituencies are reserved for Scheduled Caste candidates.

Coochbehar has been a Left Front stronghold for many years.


Image: The Indo-Bangladesh border at Haldibari's Khalpara in Coochbehar district of West Bengal
Photographs: Indrani Roy Mitra/Rediff.com
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'People are just tired of the Left Front regime'

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Which way is the wind blowing: The Congress's version

We were interested to know if the 'winds of change' have somewhat dented the Front confidence.

Congress veteran Anup Kumar Sinha, former commissioner, Haldibari ward no II, sounded confident that the Congress-Trinamool alliance would emerge winners on May 13, the day of counting.

Reason?

"The people of West Bengal are just tired of the Left Front regime. The Front has not done anything over the years," Sinha told rediff.com.

"Be it infrastructure, health, industry, education, its performance has been far from satisfactory. The Trinamool-Congress alliance has stepped into this gap and has sown the seeds of hope," he said.

Sinha predicted that the Trinamool-Congress alliance would win approximately 35 seats in North Bengal and about 200 seats in total in whole of the state.

"People have already started looking up to TMC chief and Union Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee as the new chief minister of Bengal," he added.

"And people like us, who have been with the Congress from 1971, have placed complete faith in her. She will spearhead the emergence of a new Bengal."


Image: Congress veteran and former ward commissioner Anup Sinha
Photographs: Indrani Roy Mitra/Rediff.com
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'Trinamool's agenda is simply ludicrous'

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CPI-M's version...

Sinha's words were pooh-poohed by CPI-M zonal secretary of Haldibari, Rathish Dasgupta.

Dasgupta is so certain about the return of the Left Front to power, that he has started making plans.

"Till January, the people of West Bengal were rather confused about whom to vote for. But things have changed recently," Dasgupta told rediff.com.

"If you have watched Mamata Banerjee's rally of late, you would know that she herself was not confident of winning here. At times, her pleas to the people attending her rallies sounded like begging. There was no aggression whatsoever," he commented.

"I feel TMC-Congress could have come to power if elections were held a few months earlier. Then the situation was really critical for us," said Dasgupta.

"Also, the main constraint of TMC is that its agenda is bringing about a change in governance. That's simply ludicrous. No one knows till now what the party's or the alliance's agenda would be," he said.

"I am sure of teh Left Front winning close to 40 seats in North Bengal and not less than 195 seats across the state," Dasgupta said.


Image: CPI-M zonal secretary Rathish Dasgupta
Photographs: Indrani Roy Mitra/Rediff.com
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'Leaders come and go, but our woes go on for ever'

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What do the common people want?

"Didi, leaders come and go, but our woes go on for ever," said Dilip Saha, a driver working for a car rental.

"The entire Haldibari is a fertile land that produces crops like tomatoes and chillies in plenty. But there are not enough preserving units. Neither is there a good network of markets to sell these vegetables," Saha said.

"As a result, loads of tomatoes are simply thrown away by their producers."

Saha's words proved right as a farmer whom we came across offered to share with us a part of his produce free of cost as that would save him the trouble and time of plucking the tomatoes and carrying them to the dumpyard.

In Haldibari, as we found out from the locals, there is enough room for improvement in health facilities, infrastructure, education and trade and business network.


Image: Loads of tomatoes rotting at a dump yard in Haldibari
Photographs: Indrani Roy Mitra/Rediff.com
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'People wouldn't take long to throw them out of business'

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According to another local resident, Uma Basak (name changed on request), people have a harrowing time commuting to Mekhliganj sub-division office which is roughly 12 km across the river Teesta.

But as there is no bridge connecting it to Mekhliganj, people have to make a detour of almost 50 km to reach their destination.

Also, Basak, in her mid-30s, said the state government should seriously consider making Haldibari a part of Jalpaiguri district to counter such communication and other problems.

"Whichever party wins here has to focus on these factors. Else, it would not take the people long to throw them out of business," she said.

Irrefutable logic, this. And it is relevant for the entire state of West Bengal.


Image: The Indo-Bangladesh border post, Seema Chowki, at Khalpara
Photographs: Indrani Roy Mitra/Rediff.com
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