Behala Paschim assembly constituency on the southern fringes of the city is poised for a high-pitched poll battle between ghorer chele (son of the family) Partha Chatterjee and Bengals silver screen heroine Srabanti Chatterjee. The polling for the seat will be held in the fourth phase on Saturday.
Partha Chatterjee, a senior minister in the Mamata Banerjee cabinet, has been fielded by Trinamool Congress, while Srabanti by the BJP.
Nihar Bhakta, a former ward councilor, has been fielded by the Left Front, which hopes that he will be its dark horse in the seat.
Partha Chatterjee, who is also the TMC secretary-general, is seeking to repeat his winning feat for the fifth time on the trot, while BJP hopes that Srabanti, a debutant politician, will provide the Midas touch it needs to draw young voters.
Partha Chatterjee, popularly known as Parthada (da for dada or elder brother), a TMC MLA for over two decades is considered to be the helmsman behind developments which has transformed the constituency in the South 24 Parganas district.
His popularity is high considering that he has represented the seat for 20 years and is called '
ghorer cheley' (son of the family).
There are, however, allegations of negligence in several pockets that fuelled the growth of the saffron party in Behala Paschim constituency, where the Left Front had a strong presence till the early 2000s.BJP with an eye on encashing the discontent against TMC has fielded Srabanti, who though a novice in the field of politics, is considered a heavyweight candidate because of her popularity in the tinsel town.
Says Shantanu Mallick, a resident of ward no 127 which falls in the constituency, Experience matters the most. One cannot be a politician overnight but must grow over the years.
“How can I rely on an inexperienced person like Srabanti? By the time she realises what she is into, the elections will be over. Parthada is a seasoned politician and has proved his mettle as a leader,” he said.
Mallick is echoed by many others. Partha Chatterjee made inroads in the then Left bastion in the 2001 election outsmarting fiery CPI-M leader Nirmal Mukherjee by a margin of 19,000 votes. In 2006, when Bengal was witnessing a huge wave of support for the Left Front, the TMC leader had maintained his winning streak and even added to his victory margin.During the last assembly election in 2016, his winning margin against CPI-Ms Kaustav Chatterjee had, however, dwindled to a paltry 8,896 votes.
This year, the electoral battle appears to be a tough one with BJP gearing itself up to fight him.
Extending from Pathakpara to Joth Shibrampur, the Behala Paschim neighbourhood comprises high-end multi-storied housing complexes as well as independent houses with residents mostly hailing from erstwhile East Bengal and several bustees.
"The fielding of Srabanti Chatterjee by BJP is a very clever move. We want an energetic new face who will be available when we need the person," says Dwijen Banerjee, a local of Satyen Roy Road.
Partha Chatterjee does not seem to pay much attention to the apparent rise in BJPs stock."At one point of time, there was no proper law and order in Behala. The situation stabilised after TMC came here. We (TMC) have set up a polytechnic college, upgraded Vidyasagar State General Hospital, concretised the arterial Diamond Harbour Road ... I cannot see any BJP here. Where are they? We are with the people throughout the year. People know what I have done for this area in the last 20 years. The only thing left is to flag off is the (Joka-Esplanade) Metro rail. I am confident of a win," the TMC secretary general said.
A confident Srabanti, who has been described as "
bohiragoto" (an outsider) by the TMC, differed with Partha Chatterjee.
She pointed to the annual waterlogging problem in several wards of Behala Paschim during the monsoon and opposes TMC by calling herself "
Banglar nijer ghorer meye" (daughter of Bengals own home).
"I am not an outsider here. Whoever is saying this has no knowledge about me. This is only a ploy to divert the attention of the people from the existing problems here. Have they forgotten about the waterlogging problems the residents face every monsoon? I will work for a solution to this. There are other issues, including an inadequate supply of drinking water to every household. I will address all of them... I have seen the love in the eyes of the people," Srabanti said adding she also plans to develop the bustee areas in the constituency.
"They (the TMC) have been claiming that every problem has been addressed. Then why are the residents of the bustee areas complaining of not getting anything? Their demands are quite justified. Upgradation of the infrastructure of the hospitals is also needed," the actor-turned-politician said. She alleged that TMC has been using the local clubs to terrorise residents in the area and they may be used" again during Saturday's polling.
Echoing Srabanti's claims of underdevelopment in the area, 50-year-old Bhakta asserted that "people are clamouring for a change and this time it will be the return of the Left".He admits that he is lagging behind his two "heavyweight" contestants. "I can sense that. But that does not mean that people do not know me. This year there will be a change which will bring us (CPI-M) back here," Bhakta told PTI.
He alleged that there has been no attempt by TMC to address the drinking water woes of the people for the past five years.
In 2016, the top two candidates in the constituency had split 89.6 percent of votes between them, EC records stated.
While Partha Chatterjee secured a total of 1, 02,114 votes, CPI (M)'s Kaustav Chatterjee bagged 93,218 votes and BJP's Harikrishna Dutta finished third with 17,962 votes. They secured 46.9 percent, 42.8 percent and 8.2 percent votes respectively, the EC data said.Women voters outnumber the number of male electorate in the constituency.
Out of the total 3, 13,005 voters, 1, 60,600 are women while 1, 52,399 are male and six others belong to the third gender.Polling, which began at 7 AM on Saturday, is being held in 430 polling booths. It will continue till 6.30 PM as in the other phases, a CEO official said.