Trinamool Congress (TMC) flags dot 'haats' (local markets) and villages, and its signature blue can be seen on walls of several establishments, even schools and security outposts here.
The BJP is making its presence felt in this once Maoist hotbed despite a dominant presence of the Mamata Banerjee-led TMC, which routed the Left Front promising ‘poriborton’ (change). Several locals, who were among the thousands that joined a movement in 2008 to express their angst with the then CPI(M) government led by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, say they sense another change in this part of West Bengal.
Trinamool Congress (TMC) flags dot ‘haats’ (local markets) and villages, and its signature blue can be seen on walls of several establishments, even schools and security outposts here. But at Lalgarh’s bustling tea stalls and markets, the discussion is about the challenge the TMC faces from the BJP in this erstwhile CPI(M) stronghold.
The BJP making inroads into Lalgarh and its surrounding areas has not gone unnoticed by the TMC chief, who completely overhauled the grassroot-level leadership before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in an attempt to earn the goodwill of the people.
“It came as a shock to us to see the BJP gain so much traction in the (Jhargram) district after the panchayat polls last year. It had not done any work in the area…We banked on the development that the TMC has brought in since 2011,” Jyoti Prasad Mahato, a local TMC leader, said.
In Jhargram district, the TMC lost 28 gram panchayats out of 79. Part of the Jhargram Lok Sabha constituency and district, it was in 2008 that this dusty corner of Bengal, around 170 km from Kolkata, became the hotbed for the ultras and later, a centre point of left wing extremism, which after continuous crackdown by security forces met a natural death in 2011 –the year the TMC came to power
“Schemes announced by the Centre haven’t reached us and those announced by the state are only benefitting people who hobnob with the TMC.Why shouldn’t we demand change, now that there is an alternative,” said Sushma Mahato, as she rolled tendu leaves into bidis in front of her mud hut.
Echoing Sushma’s view, a villager said,”When the TMC won the Jhargram seat we had no other party to protect our interests. Now, we do. We don’t want them to feel that they are entitled to our votes. They have to deliver on their promises.” In 2014, TMC’s Uma Soren had wrested the Jhargram from Pulin Bihari Baske of the CPI(M), ending the Left party’s 42-year domination in the constituency. This time the TMC has pitted Birbha Soren against CPI(M)’s Deblina Hembram and BJP’s Kunar Hembram. While Deblina is known for her fiery speeches, Kunar, his party people, say will win the polls as there is an anti-Mamata wave and people want change. However, some changes cannot go unnoticed.
Dirt and mud roads, which security forces treaded cautiously fearing buried IEDs, have now been paved with asphalt and infrastructure development in Binpur-1 block, under which Lalgarh falls, is on at full pace. The Banerjee-led government has also delivered around 25,000 cycles under the Sabuj Sathi scheme, built about 30 healthcare centres and about 1,300 self help groups have come up in block.
“The facelift that you see around here are is just that – an outer shell. What will we do with them if we don’t have jobs and food to eat?” asked Sushma. It was Banerjee’s promise of change that brought her to power in Lalgarh that yearned for things like jobs, food, water, electricity and connectivity. But, two assembly and one Lok sabha elections since Banerjee swept into power, another resident said there seems to be a “strong feeling of mistrust between the TMC and the people here”.
“Nothing has reached us. People have been made civic volunteers, but only those connected with the ruling party have got benefits. The local TMC leaders are so corrupt that they take money from us to even deliver basic benefits,” the resident said.
People said they are more concerned about their basic needs, rather than the politics or the violence associated with it, as election day comes closer.Jhargram goes to polls on May 12. This time, there is a straight contest between the BJP and the TMC, but the ruling party in Bengal is the dominant force, a member of a local group said.
The saffron party has worked quietly and made its mark here, he said. Even TMC’s Jyoti Prasad said, “BJP worked so silently, pumped in money that we didn’t even realise what was happening.” Each police station in the area – Lalghar, Binpur, Belpahari and Goaltorh has more than 200 “civic volunteers”. “These men are not to help us, but to spy on us. Who we are speaking with, what are we telling them. Who is coming to campaign here, what are they promising us. It’s like living under constant watch. They look out for everything even for Maoist resurgence,” said a villager, claiming that three civic volunteers are in his area.
Rani Mahato rued water comes here for an hour in the morning and in the evening, people have to wait for it.
“It depends on the whims and fancies of the man who releases the water. We are not unhappy with Didi (as Banerjee is popularly known), but her man here needs to be taught a lesson,” she said. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other senior BJP leaders have held several rallies Bengal, including in Jhargram, to counter the heavy presence of the ruling TMC.