By Saibal Gupta (IANS) Ashis Ghosh — a former worker at the Gouripur Jute Mill in Naihati in North 24 Parganas district — had to leave his home in search of a job when the mill was shut in 2017. After working as a mason for around three years in Kerala, he had to return home last year after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Now with the high-octane Assembly elections on in the state where all the political parties are promising employment and creation of job opportunities, Ghosh is holding his breath with a beating heart for something unusual to happen.
“Four years ago when the factory was closed, I had tried everything here but I was left without any option, so I moved out of the state. I had to take care of my entire family, which includes my children and elderly parents. It was my responsibility to take care of them. I had left my home and my family only for survival. After three years, I came back home and found that nothing has changed. Many factories in the Barrackpore-Naihati industrial zone, which was once considered to be one of the best in the country, have closed. People don’t have jobs. I can’t live on doles all my life but I don’t know where to go,” Ghosh, who turned 44 a few days back, told IANS.
Ghosh is perhaps the reflection of the sentiments of the people along the other side of Hooghly river which once had industrial prospects but now looks desolated.
Initially hit by the unionism of the Left Front and then by the wrong industrial policies taken by the Mamata Banerjee-led government, the once throbbing industrial hub looks barren and desolate now.
“There were huge prospects and potentials in the districts like South 24 Parganas, North 24 Parganas, Hooghly and Howrah. There were skilled labour, resources, water and roadways that could have been used properly, but no government has tried to sue this workforce and resources effectively,” a former industry secretary of the state said.
With 33 Assembly constituencies in North 24 Parganas going to the polls in the next two phases, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee will have to face these uneasy questions and her approach towards these legitimate problems will determine her prospects in this election.
In 2016, she had won 27 of the 33 seats in North 24 Paraganas, 29 of the 31 seats in South 24 Paraganas and 15 of the 16 seats in Howrah. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, despite a BJP surge, the Trinamool had managed to maintain lead in the 21 Assembly segments in North 24 Paraganas, in all the 31 segments in South 24 Paraganas and the 15 segments in Howrah.
With the BJP aggressively campaigning in all the constituencies in North 24 Parganas, promising jobs and other facilities, it would be difficult for the Trinamool Congress to retain its traditional fortress.
The BJP causing dents into the SC and Matua vote-bank is perhaps another aspect that might keep the Trinamool supremo worried. In 2009, it was Banerjee who brought in caste-based politics in the state. Now, the BJP has turned the tables on her by promising citizenship for the Matuas, who constitute almost 20 per cent of the state’s population.
Matua votes will be a deciding factor across 40-45 Assembly constituencies in this election. These people are largely present in the rural areas of North 24 Parganas such as Barasat, Basirhat, Bangaon and in some parts of Nadia like Krishnanagar, Kalyani and Ranaghat that will all go to the polls in the next four phases.
The aggressive campaigning of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah in these areas will be a big reason for worry for the Trinamool chief. The Modi-Shah duo has played the refugee and citizenship card like Mamata Banerjee to take the air out of her sail. The Bengal Chief Minister’s once well-calculated move to ensure vote banks for her party now threatens to dislodge her in Bengal.
The Scheduled Caste (SC) aspect is also keeping the ruling party worried. At 23.51 per cent, West Bengal ranks third in the country in terms of SC proportionate to its population.
In terms of absolute numbers, Bengal outranks the other two states, with its 60 recognised SC groups making up above 25 per cent of the population in more than nine districts. Together, these nine districts account for 127 Assembly seats. Besides, in six districts with 78 Assembly seats, the SCs constitute 15-25 per cent of the population.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, when it had won 18 seats, the BJP led in 33 of the total 68 SC-reserved Assembly segments in the state. Out of these 33 seats, 26 are Matua-dominated. The Trinamool led in 34 segments, and the Left-Congress combine led in only three seats.
This indicated a massive swing of the SC vote in favour of the BJP as compared to the 2016 Assembly polls, when the Trinamool had won 50 of the reserved seats, followed by the Left (10) and Congress (8), while the BJP had drawn a blank.