No winds of change in north Bengal, asserts CPI-M heavyweight

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

Siliguri (WB): Uneasy lies the head that
wears a crown.

CPI(M) heavyweight Ashok Bhattacharya, who won from
Siliguri by a record margin in the 2006 Assembly elections in
West Bengal, is sure of retaining the seat pitted against
rookie Trinamool Congress candidate Rudra Nath Bhattacharya,
but certain factors may spoil his come-back party.
Situated at the tri-junction of Nepal, Bhutan and
Bangladesh at the Chicken`s Neck which links the Northeastern
states with other parts of the country, Siliguri is a business
hub with a mixed population of Bengalis, Nepalis and
Hindi-speaking people.

"I am getting a very good response from the voters.
The `winds of change` are not blowing in north Bengal. It may
be there in Kolkata and some adjoining areas, but here? No
wind," Bhattacharya said and argued it was all a media hype.

The veteran CPI(M) leader, who won by 74,911 votes,
the highest margin in West Bengal, in the 2006 elections, has
won the Siliguri seat for four times at a stretch since 1991.

Bhattacharya also did not attach much significance to
the public meetings lined up by top Congress leaders like
Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi as well as Mamata Banerjee on
April 18, saying it would not have much effect in the region.

"We know that they are going to campaign in this
region, but there is no difficulty for us duo to that and this
will not lead to any big advantage for the Trinamool-Congress
alliance as the people are with us," he said.
"The people of north Bengal have seen that the
opposition alliance has no role in the development of the
region and that they are with the divisive forces," he said
referring to the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha`s unilateral support
to the Trinamool-Congress combine.

Earlier, they had an ssue of closed tea gardens, but
now all gardens were open, he said. "Instead, we have several
issues against them like price and corruption now."

Trinamool Congress candidate Rudra Nath Bhattacharya,
a newcomer in politics, puts up a brave face and does not seem
worried at the prospect of fighting the heavyweight CPI(M)

A doctor at the North Bengal Medical College, Rudra
Nath says, "It does not matter if I am a newcomer or not. Even
our leader Mamata Banerjee had defeated veteran CPI(M) leader
Somnath Chatterjee in 1984 Lok Sabha elections."

"It is the policies of a party which matter. I am not
daunted by the stature of my opponent," he said, adding
"people have seen what the Left Front has done in 35 years and
what Mamata Banerjee did in the two years as Railway

"She has also done a lot for north Bengal and this will
be reflected at the hustings," Rudra Nath, who is attached to
several social projects in Siliguri, said.
However, Bhattacharya, who is also the Municipal Affairs
and Urban Development Minister in the Left Front cabinet, will
have some resons to worry about of which the biggest would be
the loss of Siliguri Minicipality to the TC-Congress combine
in 2009 and the Nepali votes.

The GJM is supporting the TC candidate at Siliguri along
with several others in the region where it has a sizeable
following, thus diminishing the chances of the BJP candidate
Arun Prasad Sarkar getting a sizeable number of Nepali votes,
which would help the CPI(M) candidate.

The GJM had gone with the BJP in the 2009 Lok Sabha
elections and had supported Jaswant Singh who won from the
Darjeeling seat with their help.

Nepalis form seven per cent of total voters in Siliguri.

Despite Ashok Bhattacharya having won the Siliguri seat
by a record margin in 2006, CPI(M) led over the Congress
candidate by 14,490 votes in the segment, while BJP had polled
31,736 votes, a large percentage of which was due to the GJM

However, Ashok Bhattacharya claimed that the Nepali
voters were no longer following the dictats given by the GJM
leader Bimal Gurung.
"There will not be any polarisation of Nepali votes. They
do not follow the dictats of the GJM here and a large
percentage are with us," he said, adding the Nepalis were
attending his election meetings and rallies in good number.

With regard to the Left Front`s losing the Siliguri
municipal elections, he said that Assembly elections are a
different ballgame and it would not have any impact.

There are eight candidates in the fray from Siliguri, but
the election is likely to be a straight fight between CPI(M)`s
Ashok Bhattacharya and Rudra Nath Bhattacharya of Trinamool
Congress while it would have to be seen how much vote share
the BJP candidate retains in the new scenario where the GJM is
supporting the Trinamool candidate.