Left leader fighting tough battle in Bengal's Narayangarh
He stoutly defended the Marxist stronghold in 2011 when the Trinamool Congress ousted the Left Front. But five years down the line, CPI-M state secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra is fighting a tough battle in Narayangarh as he tries to usher in change in West Bengal.
Kolkata: He stoutly defended the Marxist stronghold in 2011 when the Trinamool Congress ousted the Left Front. But five years down the line, CPI-M state secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra is fighting a tough battle in Narayangarh as he tries to usher in change in West Bengal.
The predominantly rural constituency in West Midnapore has been electing their 'Daktar Babu' unfailingly since 1991.
But Mishra -- one of the key architects of the Congress-Left Front tie-up and unofficial chief ministerial candidate of the alliance -- knows the going could be far from smooth amid a changed political scenario.
Especially when Trinamool Congress supremo and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is walking the extra mile to wrest the seat.
The high-octane campaign reached a crescendo when Banerjee, canvassing at Mishra's 'home turf', personally appealed to the people of Narayangarh to defeat him.
"Defeat him and I will give you whatever you want. I will give you the moon. I will hold my first rally here after the elections," Banerjee said.
Pitted against Trinamool's Prodyut Kumar Ghosh and Krishna Prasad Roy of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Mishra has been returning fire with fire.
"She has been promising to give whatever she can to ensure my defeat. She has realised that she will never return to power again. That is why she is making promises which she knows will never be fulfilled," said Mishra, known for his sarcastic retorts.
A total of over 2.20 lakh voters, including over one lakh women, will exercise their franchise across 269 polling stations on Monday.
While both the Congress and the Left have remained evasive on declaring the chief ministerial candidate, prominent Congress leaders Manas Bhunia and Abu Hshem Khan Choudhury not only have dubbed Mishra the face of the alliance on several occasions but also declared that "Mishra will be the chief minister" if the coalition came to power.
In 2011, Mishra was one of the handful of top Left leaders who retained their seats, albeit with a much reduced margin of a little over 7,000 votes against a namesake -- Surjya Kanta Atta. The soft-spoken man was named leader of opposition and attracted popular attention for his witty onliners, barbs and digs, directed mainly at Banerjee.
Signalling a "generational shift", Mishra last year became the CPI-M state secretary. He is only the second state party secretary to contest the polls since after Jyoti Basu.
However, he has his task cut out in Narayangarh. Since 2011, the Trinamool has virtually established its monopoly in the constituency by crushing all opposition in the 2013 rural polls and the Lok Sabha elections held a year later.
In the panchayat elections, the Trinamool snatched 13 of the 16 gram panchayats. Within a short while, the three gram panchayats won by the Marxists also went the Trinamool way, as the elected members defected to the ruling party.
The CPI-M suffered another jolt in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, as Trinamool candidate Sandhya Roy in Midnapore took a lead of nearly 27,000 votes from the segment.
However, the Communist Party of India-Marxist seems confident of coming up trumps on the strength of doctor turned politician's reputation and his rising popularity graph at the way he conducted himself as leader of opposition.
Local CPI-M leaders also attribute the Trinamool ascendancy over the past few years to rampant terrorising of the people and violence, and claim Mishra's presence this time has dispelled the fear factor, emboldening its supporters to hit the campaign trail.
Mishra is also pinning his hopes on grabbing the votes of Congress supporters.
Local Congressmen have been regularly participating in Mishra's campaigns, though it remains to be seen whether Mishra can ensure a transfer of all Congress votes to the CPI-M kitty.