Trinamool Congress (TMC) parliamentarian and popular film star Nusrat Jahan was the centre of attention in her Lok Sabha constituency, Basirhat, on Wednesday. Jahan, adorned with a bright yellow dupatta, held an open-jeep road show in the dusty lanes of Ward Number 15 here, waving at people and drumming up support for her party in the ongoing state polls. Basirhat’s seven assembly seats vote on Saturday.
Asked if her party had its back to the wall, as claimed by the challenger Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — it says it will win at least 200 of the state’s 294 seats — Jahan was quick to respond that West Bengal would have faith in chief minister Mamata Banerjee come what may.
“I firmly believe that the people of Bengal are driven by emotions. And Didi (as Banerjee is popularly called) has always been emotionally attached to the people…whatever the situation is today, or whatever happens in the near future, people would always want only one face: our leader Mamata Banerjee,” Jahan, 31, told News18 in an interview.
She wished all “other parties and candidates” in the fray, but pointed out that voters were showering the TMC with their love. “…their enthusiasm has always been for the party that has worked for them for 10 years (the TMC came to power in 2011)…it is Didi alone who has worked for them, not any other party,” Jahan said.
She also questioned the Election Commission (EC) and BJP leaders on the Sitalkuchi deaths in Cooch Behar, where four people died in firing by security personnel during the fourth phase of polling on April 10. Officials said the forces had to fire at a mob in self-defence.
“I heard opposition leaders say what happened in Sitalkuchi will happen again. It is extremely disrespectful, and scary for the people of Bengal to have such leaders around. A people’s representative should not be talking on these lines,” she said, apparently referring to BJP state president Dilip Ghosh.
After the Sitalkuchi incident, Ghosh’s remarks that “naughty boys fell to bullets” and that there will be a repeat if someone overstepped boundaries triggered a controversy. On Thursday, the poll watchdog barred him from campaigning for 24 hours.
EC, according to Jahan, had not been fair this time around. “It is very shameful that if their (BJP) leaders talk in a disrespectful manner, they are not taken into account. But if my leader spoke on behalf of the people, when something wrong and unfair had happened…, she was not heard and penalised for nothing. Where are we heading?” Jahan told News18, hours before the EC action against Ghosh.
Earlier this week, CM Banerjee, too, was banned from campaigning for 24 hours over her election speeches that the watchdog said violated the poll code.
Jahan also responded to the BJP’s charge that CM Banerjee’s core women voter base was deserting her. “I am a woman and I want to assert that Didi has all the support from the women of Bengal. Every gender of Bengal is with Didi.”
She, however, dodged another BJP allegation — that of “Muslim appeasement”. “Right now, we would only focus on doing better (work) for the people, and not talk about religion or appeasement. It is about what people want…people in Bengal want their own daughter, Mamata Banerjee,” she said, echoing a party campaign. Jahan added that the 2021 fight was “to save the state” and, hence, it was important for the people to vote for Banerjee.
ISSUES IN BASIRHAT
All seven assembly seats in the Basirhat Lok Sabha constituency have a sizeable minority population. The percentage of Muslims in seats such as Haroa and Baduria is as high as 70% and 65%, respectively. In Basirhat Uttar, it is almost 50%.
Infiltration, cow smuggling and cow slaughter are some of the major issues in Basirhat, which is in North 24-Parganas district and right next to the Bangladesh border. The BJP has been making attempts to find a foothold in this area by raising such issues. News18 spotted cattle being tied up and herded on small vehicles — which the BJP says goes unchecked and is aided by the state administration.
The TMC won six of the seven assembly seats here in the 2016 elections. Three years later, Jahan won the Basirhat Lok Sabha seat by a big margin of 3.5 lakh votes, even as her party led in all the assembly segments.
A senior BJP leader in Bengal, however, said the party saw a chance in at least three of these assembly seats owing to “Hindu consolidation” and a possible split in Muslim votes in view of the presence of the Left-Congress-Indian Secular Front (ISF) alliance, which appears to have reasonable strength here.
During her Basirhat campaign, Jahan put more stress on Banerjee as the CM candidate than the local candidate as the MLA. “Basirhat has seen a lot of development. But this time, the issue is not just of Basirhat. It is bigger and about Bengal…Mamata Banerjee is the candidate for the state,” Jahan said.