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Winds of change may not sway North Bengal

Last updated on: April 18, 2011 11:30 IST

Winds of change may not sway North Bengal

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The much-hyped winds of change may not be blowing strongly enough for North Bengal, which seems reluctant to give up its red awning, finds Indrani Roy Mitra

You want a car for yourself on the eve of election? Next to impossible," a car rental agency at Siliguri told me curtly just when I was planning to cover the first phase of assembly elections in the northern part of West Bengal on April 18.

However, after quite a long search, I managed to get a car with a driver who, I was told, has over 40 years of experience.

And as a bonus, he had a bag full of tales to share and loads of political insights.

North Bengal is going to the polls in 54 constituencies spread over six districts today -- Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Coochbehar, North Dinajpur, South Dinajpur and Malda.

We spoke to some sons of the soil in our attempt to understand the political dynamics of the area. Read on.

A brief overview of North Bengal districts' constituencies

Jalpaiguri: Jalpaiguri district is the largest district in West Bengal and spawns an area of 6,245 sq km. Some say the name is derived from the word jalpai, which means olive, as olives are quite common in this region.

According to others, the district derived its name from Jele-pe-gori, which means a market of blankets. The district once boasted of a huge market of blankets.

Jalpaiguri district has 12 assembly constituencies. These are: Alipurduars, Dabgram-Phulbari, Dhupguri, Falakata, Jalpaiguri, Kalchini, Kumargram, Madarihat, Mainaguri, Mal, Nagrakata and Rajganj.

Of these, Kumargram, Kalchini, Madarihat, Malbazar and Nagrakata constituencies are reserved for Scheduled Caste candidates.


Image: Darjeeling is a popular hill station
Photographs: Wikimedia Commons
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'Wind of change? Not here'

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We are hearing a lot about the wind of change. But let me tell you, there will be no change of governance in our Dhupguri constituency (in Jalpaiguri district)," said Najrul Islam, a veteran Communist Party of India-Marxist loyalist.

"We have never seen CPI-M lose here since 1976 and are quite certain that this time too there will be no exception," he said.

Asked about the reason behind the communists' supremacy, Islam said, "Be it trade, infrastructure, education, health, we, the people of Dhupguri, have benefited a lot from the CPI-M. Isn't it natural, therefore, that people here would vote for the Left?"

Dhupguri is the corridor to the north-eastern states. And, according to Islam, the state government has done a lot over the years to expand the cold storage chain for preservation of potatoes.

Moreover, he said the government has given tremendous support to the growth of a vegetable market across the area. 

In this constituency, CPI-M candidate Mamata Roy is pitted against Trinamool-Congress candidate Meena Barman.

But Islam is of the opinion that Barman stands no chance against Roy.

"Our area has grown consistently under the aegis of the CPI-M. Therefore, why should we opt for a different party? After all, any change should be for the better and not for the worse, isn't it," he argued.

"Divisive forces are active here. But they don't have any impact on the assembly elections," Islam said.


Image: Najrul Islam
Photographs: Anil Sen
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'Wind of change? Not here'

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We are hearing a lot about the wind of change. But let me tell you, there will be no change of governance in our Dhupguri constituency (in Jalpaiguri district)," said Najrul Islam, a veteran Communist Party of India-Marxist loyalist.

"We have never seen CPI-M lose here since 1976 and are quite certain that this time too there will be no exception," he said.

Asked about the reason behind the communists' supremacy, Islam said, "Be it trade, infrastructure, education, health, we, the people of Dhupguri, have benefited a lot from the CPI-M. Isn't it natural, therefore, that people here would vote for the Left?"

Dhupguri is the corridor to the north-eastern states. And, according to Islam, the state government has done a lot over the years to expand the cold storage chain for preservation of potatoes.

Moreover, he said the government has given tremendous support to the growth of a vegetable market across the area. 

In this constituency, CPI-M candidate Mamata Roy is pitted against Trinamool-Congress candidate Meena Barman.

But Islam is of the opinion that Barman stands no chance against Roy.

"Our area has grown consistently under the aegis of the CPI-M. Therefore, why should we opt for a different party? After all, any change should be for the better and not for the worse, isn't it," he argued.

"Divisive forces are active here. But they don't have any impact on the assembly elections," Islam said.


Image: Najrul Islam
Photographs: Anil Sen
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'Hope change doesn't bring back the dark days of the '70s'

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The middle-aged man behind the wheels seemed apprehensive. "Didi, I was once rendered homeless because of the Naxalite movement in the '70s".

"I sincerely hope that the emergence of the Congress-Trinamool Congress does not bring back the dreadful '70s," said the worried man on condition of anonymity.

However, he did admit that there has been a visible shift in loyalty among the electorate and that "more and more people are tilting towards the Rightist coalition".

But he added that Ashok Bhattacharya, state minister for municipal affairs and urban development and town planning, was sure to win in Siliguri.

Bhattacharya is pitted against the Congress-Trinamool Congress candidate Rudra Narayan Bhattacharjee, dean of North Bengal Medical College.

Bhattacharya, incidentally, had told rediff.com earlier that he was sure of a positive result as "he has worked hard all these years."

Agreed my driver, "Bhattacharya is the architect of Siliguri as you see it today. The people of Siliguri love him way too much to make him lose."

As for the other constituencies, however, he was not so sure.

"This time, things do look as if they are going the Congress-Trinamool way. Perhaps, even North Bengal, at least parts of it, is heading for a change," he said.

"But, nothing is done until it is done, you see," he added.


Image: Municipal Affairs Minister Ashok Bhattacharya

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'The name North Bengal is so very divisive'

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Ace writer Samaresh Majumdar, born and brought up in the area, feels that the people in the rest of the state are to blame for the Gorkhaland demand and other such separatist problems.

"You see, the people in the plains have a very derisive way of referring to the northern part of West Bengal. They always refer to us, the people from this part, as denizens of North Bengal," he says.

"Do your friends introduce you as some one from South Bengal? They don't. I hate such double standards. If you ask me, the Gorkhaland turbulence and many such problems have cropped up because of such a discriminatory stance," he says.

As far as election results are concerned, Majumdar feels the Left Front would maintain its dominance in this part of the state except for a few constituencies in Jalpaiguri district.

There, the Congress-Trinamool Congress alliance might put in an impressive show.

Postscript: Though opinions may vary, people of this part of Bengal are unanimous in their hope for a peaceful and better future.

As the driver of my rented car would say, "Didi, we want peace, whatever be the election results. No more bloodshed. No more loss of innocent lives."

I can't but agree with him.


Image: Author Samaresh Majumdar

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