Redoubtable novice vs enduring veteran

Redoubtable novice vs enduring veteran

Third phase of Assembly elections in West Bengal tomorrow

Poll bandwagon: A CPM campaign van moves through a street in Kolkata on Monday. PTI The territory may be unfamiliar, but the fight is among equals—an economist taking on the might of another economist who has, over the years, allegedly turned West Bengal “bankrupt.” If Mitra is a high-profile industry lobbyist who has been sought after for his views by successive governments, his political foe CPM’s Asim Dasgupta, an MIT degree holder, is no mean fighter though.

Dasgupta, who shot to fame for presenting zero deficit budgets year after year and thus managed to lead the state to a financial brink—a loan burden of Rs 2 lakh crore, has been winning in Kharadah constituency in the last five elections since 1987. Mitra's entry has undoubtedly made his battle pretty tough this time.

If the Congress-Trinamool alliance is able to form a government and Mitra is among the winners, he is widely being tipped to be the finance minister.

He will have to take up the task of extricating the state from the current fiscal morass. Mitra may be a greenhorn, but not his family.

“My father Haridas Mitra was an MLA. He had contested four elections. And he had never been defeated. There is a railway station in the state, Belanagar, that is named after my mother. My maternal grandfather Suresh Chandra Bose was the elder brother of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. I have deep roots in Bengal... I have only returned to my roots,” Mitra told Deccan Herald here.

Dasgupta, who does not live in the constituency but claims to be a regular visitor, contends that Mitra was a rank outsider in this suburban seat. “I'm covering the length and breadth of the constituency; I’ll stand by you in your pleasure and pain, but he won’t. You’ve elected me for more than a quarter century because you know I don’t give false promises,” Dasgupta told the gathering at an election rally.

Mitra rubbished this claim. “There is no infrastructure in the area. More than 30 years have passed, but nothing has been done. As you can see, there is no cleaning of drains,” Mitra said, pointing to an open drain.

 "What has the CPM done to alleviate unemployment in 34 years? All the factories in the constituency are closed. I want to ask Asim Dasgupta whether closing down factories is his job in the government.”

The densely populated constituency of 1.69 lakh voters is part of the North 24 Parganas district industrial belt dotted with several closed jute mills and small manufacturing units.

A large proportion of voters are migrants from Bihar and Orissa, whose forefathers came to work here about a century ago. It also has a substantial Muslim population.

 Mitra who has taken leave of absence from the Ficci to join the poll fray, has been assisting Railway minister Mamata Banerjee in drawing up business plans for the railways since she took over the portfolio in mid-2009.

 “The state is totally bankrupt. It has a burden of Rs 2 lakh crore. People here are very anxious and very angry. They are looking for a change,” claimed Mitra, a Ph.D. from Duke
University in the US.

It is now up to the electorate here to decide on the “change’ when the constituency votes on April 27 in the third phase of the six-phase elections.

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