Bengal’s Rust Belt goes to Polls

On May 6 as India entered phase five of the general elections, three key constituencies; Barrackpore, Howrah and Hooghly went to polls in West Bengal. As fate would have it, even this round of polls was not devoid of violence with reports of clashes between cadres of opposing parties.

West bengal

Barrackpore covers the industrial belt that lies in the North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal. The area has jute mills, arms and ammunition factories including a division of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) that manufactures the Cheetah Chetak Helicopter. However, the region is only a shadow of the thriving manufacturing center it was during its heydays.

Barrackpore parliamentary constituency covers the assembly segments of Amdanga, Bijpur, Naihati, Bhatpara, Jagatdal, Noapara and Barrackpore. All of them fall in the North 24 Parganas district. This district is demographically diverse with over 25 per cent people practicing Islam. Scheduled Castes add up to just over 14 per cent of the population and as much as 40 per cent of the constituents are Hindi speakers.

A Marxist bastion, Barrackpore has voted the CPI (M) into power nine times! It has also voted for the INC thrice, but the last two elections have been won by the TMC. Incumbent Dinesh Trivedi was once Union Minister of Railway. The BJP has fielded Arjun Singh opposite Trivedi. Singh was previously with the TMC. The CPI (M)’s candidate is Gargi Chatterjee, while the INC has fielded Mohammed Alam.

Incidents of violence were reported from Barrackpore as polling began on Monday. BJP’s Arjun Singh alleged that he was attacked by TMC workers when he visited a polling booth. The BJP is now demanding re-election in the constituency alleging voter intimidation by TMC workers.

A former Prtuguese, French, Danish and Dutch colony, Hooghly is now a part of West Bengals rust belt with multiple manufacturing units shutting down. Hooghly covers the assembly constituencies of Singur, Chandannagar, Chunchura, Balagarh, pandua, Sapagram and Dhanekhali.

According to census data, over 15 per cent of the people identify as Muslims, while just over 24 per cent belong to Scheduled Castes and over 4 per cent to Scheduled Tribes.

Though a traditional Marxist bastion, Hooghly has elected the TMC in the last two elections. Incumbent Dr. Ratna De of TMC is up against Locket Chatterjee of BJP. Meanwhile, the CPI (M) has fielded Pradip Saha and the INC candidate is Pratul Chandra Saha. The constituency also has a candidate Sajal Adhikari from the CPI (ML) Liberation. The Socialist Unity Centre of India (Communist) or SUCI (C) has fielded Bhaskar Ghosh.

There were also reports of violence during polling in Hooghly on Monday. BJP’s Locket Chatterjee alleged that state police were allowing rigging of the ballot in some booths in Dhanekhali. But the presiding officer of the booth said that Chatterjee entered the booth making allegation after over half the votes had been cast. Then a miscreant entered the booth and broke the EVM. Polling was suspended and people attacked some media vehicles.

This is yet another constituency that is part of a rust belt with its once famous foundries downing shutters. It is also an important rail terminus. It includes the three assembly constituencies of Howrah (North, Central and South), but also Bally, Shibpur, Sankrali and Panchla.

A traditional Marxist bastion, Howrah swung to the TMC in 2009. Incumbent Prasoon Banerjee of the TMC is up against CPI (M)’s Sumitra Adhikari and BJP’s Rantidev Senguta. The INC has fielded Suvra Ghosh.
TMC candidate Prasoon Banerjee was reportedly heckled at a polling booth in Howrah.



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