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May 30, 2000
Politics of violence spells doom for Midnapore
Rifat Jawaid in Keshpur, Midnapore
The recent killings in Keshpur, a non-descript town in Midnapore district of West Bengal, have given it a new political identity.
In the last fortnight or so, several top leaders have visited Keshpur, scene of a bloody clash between some Trinamul and Communist Party of India (Marxist) workers on May 10 that left 10 people dead and several others injured.
Quite ironically, however, the situation has only worsened with each visit.
The Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee was the first to visit the troubled spot. Addressing supporters soon after her arrival, she called for retaliation. According to one account she asked her workers to "chop-off " the hands that had burnt their houses and killed friends and family.
West Bengal home minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya's visit too failed to cool down tempers.
And now it's the turn of Chief Minister Jyoti Basu. He will visit Midnapore, accompanied by former prime minister V P Singh, on Wednesday.
Residents say they'd much rather have politicians visiting their town in connection with some development work.
The CPM's 24 years of uninterrupted rule in West Bengal notwithstanding, there is no sign of development in Midnapore. This despite Midnapore and Panskura sending political heavyweights like former Union home minister Indrajit Gupta and late Geeta Mukherjee as their representatives to the Lok Sabha.
Midnapore is the country's largest district with a population of over 10 million, 34 assembly segments, 12 municipalities, 54 blocks and five parliamentary seats.
According to a Trinamul Congress leader, over 50,000 people are unemployed in the district, while 5,500 of the 10,800 villages are yet be electrified. Over 1,350 of the villages don't even have access to drinking water.
Apart from the main road linking Keshpur and Midnapore, there is nothing that can be described as a road here.
Now, the lack of development combined with political violence is likely to pull the district's productivity further down.
At the heart of all the violence lies the Trinamul's meteoric rise in the region. The combined might of the Trinamul and the Bhartiya Janata Party has made a considerable dent in the Left's vote bank -- Muslims and tribals.
Known as Marxists' citadel, the Opposition seldom put up a fight in Midnapore and Panskura. This, however, changed after Mamata quit Congress and formed her own party.
The 1999 Lok Sabha results came as a major shock to the ruling Left Front. Both Indrajit Gupta and Geeta Mukherjee saw their victory margins shrink considerably. While Gupta's victory margin came down from 2,75,000 to a meagre 41,000, Mukherjee's margin fell from from 1,79,000 in 1998 to 38,000 in 1999.
The Trinamul also threw a challenge to the Marxists' dominance in local government body polls. Though the party managed to win only three of the 15 panchayats in Keshpur, it gave a scare to the Left Front in eight more, where its candidates lost by one or two votes.
"When Didi (Mamata) was with the Congress, we had no option but to suffer the CPM's atrocities in silence. But now we have decided to retaliate...if they kill our people, we will kill their's," said a Trinamul worker.
Midnapore's recognition as a political hot-spot is unlikely to bring any development to the region. All it will bring is more politicians and more blood-shed.
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