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Will Pranab Mukherjee's son change the face of rural WB?

Last updated on: April 7, 2011 13:32 IST

Will Pranab's son change the face of rural WB?

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While activist Anna Hazare inspires the Indians to put up a fight against corruption, people of Pakha village in Nalhati, more than 300 km from Kolkata are seething with discontent over corruption at village levels and are desperate to make themselves heard. They are sick and tired of the misdeeds of politicians in their area.

Rediff.com's Indrani Roy Mitra was in Nalhati in the Birbhum district near the Bengal-Jharkhand border on Wednesday to cover the campaign of Abhijit Mukherjee, a former corporate executive and son of Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

From lack of basic amenities to corrupt politicians, the woes of the villagers from Pakha village were endless. For years, politicians have only made promises to the villagers, which are far from being fulfilled. But will Mukherjee usher in a change in rural West Bengal?

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Also see: Complete Coverage: Assembly Elections 2011


Image: Abhijit Mukherjee during his campaign in Pakha village
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty
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'To get a BPL card we have to pay a bribe of Rs 500'

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It was a warm April noon and the road (only if one can call a bumpy, potholed four-foot wide pathway that) to Pakha village seemed never ending.

"Apnara vote korte esechhen, didi?" (Have you come for election duty?) asked a middle-aged man clad in dhoti, his bare torso gleaming with sweat. He has just been back from the paddy field where he works.

On knowing that we were from the media, the man looked bewildered for a second and then started beckoning people.
Within a minute, our car was surrounded by villagers, each one trying to dish out a complaint against politicians. "They come here during elections and after winning, just disappear in thin air. We, the poor are just left to die," said Farida (name changed), a woman in her mid-fifties.

"We earn Rs 500 to 600 a month by working as daily labourers. The politicians beg for votes and we are forced to beg for our daily food," she said. "These leaders are shameless. They can even sell their kin for money. Else, why do you think they ask for a bribe of Rs 500 to issue one below poverty line card?"


Image: Villagers from Pakha village feel politicians have only exploited them
Photographs: Anil Sen
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'A house under Indira Awas Yojna for Rs 5,000!'

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Another man from the village echoed Farida's sentiments. "And for every Indira Awas Yojana house, one needs to cough up Rs 5,000. Wonder if I will ever see that much money in my life," he said.

And the complaints continued to pour in. Another physically-challenged woman said, "I barely get to eat two-square meals a day. This government and the political leaders have not done anything for us. We are just left to die amid poverty," said Dulari (name changed).

"We often hear that India will be a superpower soon! Which India are we talking about? Are we not a part of India?" she asked. "People in this state are talking of change. It started with the Lok Sabha elections in 2009. Actress Shatabdi Roy got elected from Birbhum district, but she never showed her face to after the win."

"We are just pawns in the hands of the policymakers. Only during the elections, they make tall claims and after a win, they are never to be seen," Dulari said, tears rolling down her cheeks.


Image: A house in Pakha village
Photographs: Anil Sen
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'If Congress-Trinamool come to power even salt will be a luxury'

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People in this state are eager to bring in the Congress-Trinamool alliance to power. But if you ask me, a known devil is better than an unknown one," said a young man in his thirties.

"Besides, we are well aware of the Congress and Trinamool Congress 'performance' at panchayats and zilla parishads. Now, we get to eat salt with rice. If the Congress-Trinamool alliance come to power in the forthcoming elections, even salt may become a luxury," he sighed.

It should be mentioned, that in the 2008 panchayat samity general elections, out of 26 seats in Nalhati I, the Communist
Party of India-Marxist won seven seats whereas Congress won 17 and two were bagged by independents. In Nalhati II, however, out of the 15 seats, seven were won by the CPI-M, seven by the Congress and one by an independent.


Image: The villagers in Pakha
Photographs: Anil Sen
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I will focus on building roads, improving lives of villagers: Mukherjee

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What the Congress candidate has to say:

Mukherjee is of the opinion that a lot needs to be done at Nalhati. "People in this area have been deprived for years. There is no infrastructure and people are not getting basic amenities. If I am elected, I will first focus on building roads and also on improving the lives of the rural people," he told rediff.com.

"I am receiving complaints of corruption and bribery. If I come to power, I will try to put an end to this menace," he said.

As far as improving the condition of the villages in his constituency, Mukherjee thinks his skills as a mechanical engineer will come in handy.


Image: Mukherjee takes blessings from a village elder
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty
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'What's Cong-Trinamool's definition of change?

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The Forward Bloc's take:

In the 2006 state assembly elections, Dipak Chatterjee of the Forward Bloc won the Nalhati assembly seat defeating Abdul Walee Mollah of the Congress.

On hearing that the Pakha village residents were complaining of panchayat and zilla parishad leaders taking bribes to issue BPL cards and to allocate houses under Indira Awas Yojana Chatterjee said, "I cannot comment on this. I have no proof to substantiate these claims. Hence, it would be unfair for me to accuse my rival parties only to gain political advantage."

Talking about poriborton (change), which has become the buzzword in Bengal, Chatterjee, who is also the Forward Bloc district secretary, said that neither the Congress nor Trinamool have explained what they have in store for the aam aadmi.

"It seems by change, they only mean a change in the ruling political party. If by change, they meant betterment of the living conditions of the people, then the panchayats and the zilla parishads would have performed better under Trinamool Congress aegis," he said.

Taking a dig at the TMC slogan -- Maa, Maati, Manush -- Chatterjee said, "If 'ma' is a word of eternal love, I don't understand how a party that swears by that the word shamelessly politicises a murder and scurries to put its stamp on the dead. A murder is a murder, what has politics got to do with it?"


Image: Dipak Chatterjee of the Forward Bloc
Photographs: Anil Sen
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'Trinamool as a party lacks discipline'

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Chatterjee feels the Left Front as a whole has learnt its lessons from the 2008 and 2009 political debacle. It has reorganised itself to a large extent.

"The Trinamool Congress as a party lacks in discipline. People here are very angry with member of the Parliament Shatabdi Roy for not having done anything for her constituency of Birbhum. If she was busy, she could have put her representatives to work. But, the TMC as a party lacks in such well-designed structure," he said.

"We, the sons of the soil, have great faith in the people and we are confident that people too trust us. Many outsiders can come here and ask for votes but that does not affect us at all," the Forward Bloc leader said.

Asked how optimistic he was about his win, pat came the reply, "To me, a win or a loss doesn't matter. What matters is serving the people. I have been doing that for years and will go on doing that, whatever be the election results."


Image: Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee
Photographs: Reuters
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