By Bappaditya Chatterjee
Ghatal (West Bengal), May 10 (IANS) A retired cop known as an overbearing officer in his service life, but hounded by the state’s law enforcement agencies, is now striving to shoot down a Bengali matinee idol’s colourful Lok Sabha re-election bid in Ghatal, triggering a thrilling and dramatic contest that is making headlines all over.
Former IPS Bharati Ghosh — once a close aide of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and now a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate from Ghatal — is leading an aggressive, no-holds-barred election campaign against leading Bengali film hero and Trinamool Congress nominee Deepak (Dev) Adhikari.
Harvard-educated and former UN peacekeeper Ghosh has emerged as a “big factor” in the Lok Sabha constituency, which was initially considered to be “one of the safest” for the state’s ruling Trinamool Congress.
Ghosh, who once publicly described Banerjee as the “Mother of Junglemahal” (large tracts of forest land covering several districts where the Maoists were earlier active), had played a pivotal role in the crackdown on the red rebels in the region after the Trinamool came to power in the state in 2011.
Their relationship, however, started souring when the BJP’s vote share jumped in the by-polls to the Sabang Assembly Constituency in 2017.
Ghosh, then West Midnapore district police super, took retirement after Banerjee shunted her off to an insignificant post. Later, the state government slapped corruption and extortion cases against her, and she has even been grilled by West Bengal CID multiple times during the ongoing poll campaign.
But the BJP candidate seems unperturbed.
“Nothing would be able to stop me,” she says.
Accusing the Trinamool government of destroying democracy in the state and also within the constituency and snatching democratic rights of the people, Ghosh says the law and order has collapsed.
“People of Ghatal are facing brunt of loot, extortion and intimidation. There was no development in the last five years. Poor are living in misery. People need to bribe ruling party’s agent to avail welfare schemes,” she says, adding Trinamool workers have been “intimidating and threatening people who oppose their hooliganism and are keeping themselves ready for looting vote on the day of polling”.
In meeting after meeting, Ghosh has been referring to Adhikari’s low attendance in Parliament, and even mocking him for his “inadequate” knowledge of English.
Adhikari admits that he has learnt “much of politics and parliamentary proceedings” in his maiden term, but assures voters they would get a “new Deva if he is re-elected”.
Speaking about his achievements, Adhikari says he raised the issue of Ghatal Master Plan — aimed at stopping recurring floods in the region — and got the funds sanctioned, though the amount is yet to be released.
“I always want people to remember me as an actor who carried out a lot of development in Ghatal. I believe one must prove oneself by virtue of his work.
“I stand by the people of my constituency. I utilised whatever resources I received,” he says.
Ghosh has been courting controversies throughout her poll campaign by threatening police officers, and even warning Trinamool workers that they would be “beaten up like dogs” if they create disturbances. The latest was the seizure of over Rs 1 lakh from her possession.
But political analysts felt there could be a “game plan” behind her threat to beat Trinamool workers “like dogs”. The attempt was to boost the BJP workers’ moral at Keshpur, which is one of the Assembly segments in the constituency, where either “votes are organised” by the ruling party or “voters voted in the past for the dominant political outfit”.
In 2014, out of 1.94 lakh votes polled in Keshpur, Trinamool’s Suvendu Adhikari secured over 1.4 lakh. The same was the story in 2009 when Communist Party of India (CPI) veteran Gurudas Dasgupta got a gigantic share of votes from this segment.
The Ghatal seat came into being with the delimitation of constituencies in West Bengal in 2008, as Panskura Lok Sabha constituency ceased to exist. However, Ghatal constituency had existed earlier from 1951 to 1977.
Panskura was a CPI bastion over decades as the party’s veteran Geeta Mukherjee won seven times since 1980. After her demise, the Trinamool-BJP alliance candidate Bikram Sarkar pulled off a win in a by-election in 2000, but CPI’s Dasgupta won it back in 2004.
In 2014, Adhikari defeated CPI’s Santosh Rana by over 2.6 lakh votes, securing about 50.15 per cent of the popular mandate. Then Congress candidate Manas Ranjan Bhunia came third and BJP’s Md Alam stood fourth managing to get only seven per cent of the votes.
Political observers felt Ghosh’s daredevil approach would pull the BJP’s vote share up, but around 15 per cent Muslim votes are likely to consolidate in Trinamool’s favour.
The Ghatal Lok Sabha constituency comprises seven Assembly segments — Panskura Paschim (West), Sabang, Pingla, Debra, Daspur, Ghatal and Keshpur — and has over 17.97 lakh voters.
In the 2016 Assembly elections, the Trinamool Congress had bagged six seats, while one went to the Congress. But the winning candidate Manas Bhunia later crossed over to Trinamool and was elected to the Rajya Sabha. In the by-polls in 2017, his wife Gitarani Bhunia won the seat as Trinamool candidate.
In the 2018 rural body polls, the Trinamool captured the zilla parishad seats (top tier of the three-rung panchayat system in Bengal) though the saffron party made strides in gram panchayats (the lowst rung).
Ghatal goes to the hustings on May 12 in the sixth phase of the Lok Sabha polls. The vote count is on May 23.
(Bappaditya Chatterjee can be reached at [email protected])