Kolkata North constituency witnesses close, high profile battle

May 9th, 2009 - 5:11 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party By Soudhriti Bhabani
Kolkata, May 9 (IANS) A battle royal is on the cards between two formidable candidates in the newly-carved out Kolkata North Lok Sabha seat, where the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)’s Mohammad Salim takes on Congress-supported Trinamool Congress nominee Sudip Bandhopadhyay.

The seat goes to the polls May 13 in the fifth and last phase of the general elections.

Though the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has fielded its former state president Tathagata Roy, hoping to tap into its traditional base in the area, the main fight is expected to be between Salim and Bandhopadhyay.

Kolkata North’s seven assembly segments - Chowringhee, Entally, Beliaghata, Jorasanko, Shyampukur, Maniktala and Kashipur-Belgachia - were earlier in three separate Lok Sabha constituencies, Kolkata North West, Kolkata North East and Kolkata South.

While Kashipur-Belgachia was carved out after delimitation, the CPI-M and its ally Forward Bloc (FB) hold four of the assembly segments while the opposition Trinamool Congress has two.

The state’s ruling Left Front (LF) won both Kolkata North West and now non-existent Kolkata North East in 2004, while Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee retained Kolkata South. While Salim upset Trinamool Congress heavyweight and former central government minister Ajit Panja, who had won from Kolkata North East six times in a row, Kolkata North West went to CPI-M’s Sudhanshu Sil.

Bandopadhyay had then contested as a Congress candidate against Sil and BJP-backed Trinamool nominee Subrata Mukherjee. Though the sum total of Congress-Trinamool votes was more than what Sil got, the split in the opposition votes saw the CPI-M candidate sail through in a seat which had always favoured the opposition since 1980. Mukherjee finished second and Bandopadhyay third.

With the Congress and the Trinamool tying up, the going may not be easy for Salim this time around. However, he is confident of his chances.

“I am getting tremendous support during my election campaigns,” Salim asserted.

Kolkata North has nearly 1.6 million voters, who will cast their ballots in 1,187 polling booths. Between 16 to 20 percent of them are Muslims and the CPI-M is concerned about which way they will go, with the minority community believed to be upset with the ruling combination after the Justice Rajinder Sachar committee pointed out the backwardness of the community in the state.

The CPI-M has been trying hard to retain its support base among the Muslims, and Salim’s nomination is largely aimed at that. The state government has also splashed huge advertisements in the media detailing its welfare schemes for the community.

Bandopadhyay, who won the erstwhile Kolkata North West seat in 1998 and 1999 on a Trinamool Congress ticket, is campaigning along with his actress-turned-politician wife Naina.

“We’re getting good response from the electorate and they are happy that Trinamool Congress and Congress are contesting the election in the state jointly,” he maintained.

An IANS correspondent touring the constituency found posters, festoons and giant cut-outs of Salim and Bandhopadhyay dotting the landscape of North Kolkata, which boasts of old Kolkata’s popular hangout, the Coffee House in book-lovers’ paradise College Street as well as the red light district Sonagachi, that houses over 10,000 sex workers.

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