Pranab banks on performance in Lok Sabha fight

May 5th, 2009 - 2:12 pm ICT by IANS  

By Soudhriti Bhabani
Jangipur (West Bengal), May 5 (IANS) Up against a relative political lightweight, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee is banking on his popularity and development work to retain the Jangipur Lok Sabha seat in West Bengal’s border district of Murshidabad.

Muslim majority Jangipur, 260 km from Kolkata, had given the Congress stalwart his first taste of Lok Sabha victory in 2004.

The win, as Mukherjee has confessed, helped remove the tag of “rootless wanderer” given to him for his inability to enter the Lok Sabha despite being in politics since the late 1960s.

The 74-year-old political veteran’s predominantly rural and semi-urban constituency is known for its massive erosion problem, arsenic poisoning of groundwater and the nearly 700,000 labourers who make bidis (leaf rolled tobacco).

Mukherjee is seeking votes through roadshows and series of daily meetings. He has also roped in an advertising consultant to drive home his message to the public.

The minister’s rival, Jangipur municipality chairman and Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Mirganka Bhattacharya, is relying on small and medium sized meetings besides rallies by his senior party leaders in his maiden Lok Sabha contest.

For the people of Jangipur, the top priority now is to find an answer to the problem of erosion which has already seen acres of land and households going under the raging waves of the Padma river.

“Soil erosion is a major problem. The situation is more acute at Sakalipur, Kantakhali, Garjangla and Bilbara area,” Amirul Islam of Lalgola told IANS.

“Sakalipur High School, from where I got my basic education, was sumberged in the Padma in March 2008. It also engulfed a BSF (Border Security Force) camp in Birpara area,” he said, adding that only last year nearly 265 houses went under water.

Mukherjee claims he is doing his bit.

“We’ve recognised this issue as a national problem and included it in the 10th as well as 11th Five Year Plans,” he said at a public meeting.

“We’re sure that this problem can be dealt with coordinated efforts in the near future,” he added, promising to build a campus of the Aligarh Muslim University in Murshidabad - the only Muslim majority district in the state.

The generation of electricity and improvement of roads are the two other issues that matter to the one million voters, who have always elected CPI-M nominees in all the polls since 1977, save in 2004.

Mukherjee loyalists claim their leader would win on the strength of the work that he has done over the last five years.

Murshidabad is one of the most arsenic affected districts in the country and Mukherjee’s aides say that under his initiative work has started on a plant to purify water of arsenic. Some people in the constituency are already benefiting.

During the last five years, the number of schools for children who roll bidis has increased from 40 to 140 and 7,000 youngsters are reaping the fruits of the scheme.

“It will be a very close fight between the two contestants,” CPI-M central committee member Binoy Konar told IANS.

“We are optimistic of winning the seat this time. We are getting very good response there,” he said, referring to the good showing of his party in Murshidabad panchayat polls last year.

In 2004, Mukherjee defeated Abul Hasnat Khan of the CPI-M by over 36,000 votes. Since then, Jangipur has been much in the news as Mukherjee went on to play a crucial role in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, managing key portfolios like defence and finance.

The constituency goes to the polls May 7.

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