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Left Front to face its biggest challenge yet


Kolkata : There is near unanimity among voters of West Bengal that the state’s ruling Left Front may be facing its gravest challenge yet since it came to power 32 years ago.

In a state where people are known to take a keen interest in political affairs, most agree that the coming Lok Sabha polls would be hard fought.

Tulsi Prasad Datta, an officer in a private bank, said the coming together of Trinamool and the Congress seemed to have put the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)-led Left Front under pressure.

“By joining hands, the two parties are throwing a strong challenge to the Front, as had been admitted by even top CPI-M leaders,” Datta told IANS.

“While the Congress is strong in north Bengal, Trinamool draws its strengths from the south. So, together, they make for a formidable combination.”

Harish Ganguly, 68, a retired executive who resides in New Alipore in south Kolkata, said: “After so many years, there’s a real chance of beating the Left Front in West Bengal because Trinamool and the Congress have come together. Their votes won’t be split. It’s not a chance to be missed.”

However, Debu Pant, a social worker based in northern Bengal’s Siliguri, was not convinced that the CPI-M could be defeated.

“Before every election, we hear the CPI-M-led Front is in trouble. But they always sail through. At best, the opposition can give them a run for their money and some more seats than last time,” he said.

In the 2004 Lok Sabha polls, the Left front bagged 35 seats, the Congress won six while Trinamool had to be content with one.

Abdul Gaffar Khan, a farmer in South 24 Parganas district’s Mousumi island, 80 km from Kolkata, seems convinced that Trinamool will romp home in his Mathurapur constituency.

“We have not seen the CPI-M candidate here, or any sign of a campaign. I think Trinamool will win here. I hope its candidate will build us a cyclone shelter. We really need that,” said the 62-year-old man.

Dudh Kumar Dhara, a farmer in Singur, where protests over land acquisition drove out the prestigious Nano project, said: “It’s difficult to predict the outcome. It’s a 50-50 case for the two alliances. But I have a feeling that winds of change are blowing, and there may be surprises.”

Many also admit their vote could be influenced by the fear factor.

Ramesh Manna, 22, who sells green coconuts on the roadside at Diamond Harbour in South 24 Parganas, said: “Trinamool is strong here; so I suppose they’ll win.

“I have to be friendly with the Trinamool people here. Otherwise, near election day, some group of men will just come and take all my green coconuts, and I’ll have no one to go and complain to. It has happened to me before. And there’s no point telling the police,” he said.

Homemaker Chitralekha Mandal of the same district wants to vote – out of fear.

“We’ll vote because if we don’t show that mark on our finger someone can come and create problems for us. They can be from the CPI-M or Trinamool. Both sides have goons,” said 50-year-old Mandal, who is from Sagar island.

Tapash Saha, a grocer in Behala on the outskirts of Kolkata, was a commited CPI-M voter once but has now stopped taking part in the democratic exercise.

“Whom do I vote for? The CPI-M has betrayed its principles. The others haven’t because they have no principles to betray. But I’ll have to tell both sides I’ve voted for them. I don’t want goons to come and loot my shop,” said the 40-year-old voter in the South Kolkata constituency.

Sheikh Abul Rahman, busy serving tea to his customers at the ferry crossing across the Hatania-Doania river in South 24 Parganas, laments that a bridge is yet to come up there.

“For so many years, we have been asking for a bridge here. You sometimes have to wait for an hour if you want to cross. Nothing has happened. Maybe, if we vote for the Trinamool candidate, he will get the bridge built,” said the 35-year-old tea stall owner.