LS polls: In Bengal’s Tamluk, it’s a battle between an ex-HC judge and a poet | Kolkata - Hindustan Times
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LS polls: In Bengal’s Tamluk, it’s a battle between an ex-HC judge and a poet

May 22, 2024 06:01 PM IST

The BJP has fielded former Calcutta high court judge Abhijit Gangopadhyay while the TMC has fielded Debangshu Bhattacharya, a young party spokesperson in Tamluk

At the Tamluk Lok Sabha seat in Bengal’s East Midnapore district the contest between former Calcutta high court judge Abhijit Gangopadhyay, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s “surprise candidate,” and Debangshu Bhattacharya, a young Trinamool Congress spokesperson, is being widely seen as an acid test for both because, on paper, the region is still a ruling party bastion but controlled by a family whose members have moved to the saffron camp since 2020.

Debangshu Bhattacharya (left) and Abhijit Gangopadhyay (right). (ANI Photos)
Debangshu Bhattacharya (left) and Abhijit Gangopadhyay (right). (ANI Photos)

Sixty-one-year-old Gangopadhyay resigned from service on March 5, five months before retirement, and joined BJP on March 7, leaving a trail of judgements - including the CBI probe into the bribe-for-job scam in the education department - that BJP is using as election issues against TMC.

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On the other side of the battle line, 28-year-old Bhattacharya, a debutant in Parliament polls like his rival, is known more for his catchy rhymes and slogans. He had penned the popular TMC election song for 2021 assembly election ‘Khela Hobe’.

Tamluk goes to polls in the sixth phase on May 25 along with seven other seats in the south Bengal region. In East Midnapore district, which has a population of 5.1 million according to the 2011 census, Hindus and Muslims comprise 85.24 % and 14.59 %, respectively.

While many wonder if TMC chairperson Mamata Banerjee took a risk by fielding a young candidate at a high-profile seat against a former judge who has been in the headlines since 2022 for his judgements and critical observations, the incumbent MP refuses to comment.

“A candidate is a candidate no matter what his age might be,” said Dibyendu Adhikari, who won the Tamluk seat for TMC in 2019 by a margin of 0.19 million votes over his nearest BJP rival although the saffron camp set a record in Bengal that year by winning 18 of the state’s 42 seats. With a target of 30 seats this year, winning Tamluk is crucial for BJP.

Giripada Samanta, a Tamluk-based trader, said: “Common people had started to see the judge as their hero, but their perception suffered a jolt when he joined BJP within 48 hours of resigning. Debanghsu is harping on this point everywhere. The Adhikaris had projected themselves as custodians of Tamluk. Let’s see if voters see it that way as well.”

Ever since campaigning started in Bengal, chief minister Mamata Banerjee has been referring to the Adhikaris as “gaddar” (traitor).

BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari, Dibyendu’s elder brother and now leader of the opposition in the state Assembly, wrested the Tamluk seat from heavyweight CPI(M) MP Lakshman Seth by 0.17 million votes in 2009 when the Left Front was in power. For Banerjee, it was a major achievement because Seth, a three-time winner from that seat, was seen as invincible.

Suvendu Adhikari, who was then a TMC youth front leader, won the seat again in 2014 but resigned in 2016 to contest the assembly elections. Dibyendu Adhikari retained the seat in the 2016 bypolls and won again in 2019.

In December 2020, Suvendu Adhikari joined BJP. In the 2021 assembly polls, he defeated Mamata Banerjee at his Nandigram seat which is part of Tamluk Parliamentary constituency. Banerjee challenged the Nandigram results in court and faced a bypoll in Kolkata to continue as chief minister.

While campaigning for Gangopadhyay, Adhikari is referring to his 2021 victory at every rally.

“Wait for the Lok Sabha results. I defeated Mamata Banerjee once. Now we will permanently make her an ex-chief minister,” Adhikari said at a rally on Tuesday hours after the Election Commission of India (ECI) barred the former judge from campaigning for 24 hours because of a remark he made against the chief minister on May 15.

Banerjee is not holding herself back. Addressing Tamluk voters on May 16, she said: “Those who own crores of rupees have gone to BJP to save themselves. I was cheated in the Nandigram election. My votes were looted. The district magistrate, superintendent of police, local police officers were all replaced with help from the Election Commission just because BJP is in power at the Centre. The power supply was suspended after polling to change the results. I will take my revenge. Future will show me how and when to do it.”

“BJP won’t stay in power forever. CBI, Income Tax and ED will not keep you on their laps forever. God and Allah will decide your future,” she added, without naming any of the Adhikaris against whom the state police have been investigating several alleged criminal cases since 2021.

On Monday, when polling for the fifth phase was on, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was scheduled to address voters at Tamluk but he had to skip the rally because of stormy weather. He flew to the adjacent Jhargram seat.

As Tamluk waited for Modi, Suvendu Adhikari, Dibyendu Adhikari, their father Sisir Adhikari, the TMC MP from the adjacent Kanthi seat, and the family’s youngest son Soumendu, who is contesting the Kanthi seat on a BJP ticket, were all seen together on the dais for the first time in this election season.

“With his tight schedule, Modi Ji cannot plan another Tamluk trip, but Amit Shah is coming to Kanthi,” Dibyendu Adhikari told HT.

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