Harvard don, pharma doctorate, painter-activist in Jadavpur poll

Harvard don, pharma doctorate, painter-activist in Jadavpur poll

An intriguing battle - that of brain and political brawn - seems to be in the offing May 12 in West Bengal's Jadavpur Lok Sabha seat.

A Harvard professor and an acclaimed painter-activist will take on a veteran leader with a pharmaceutical science doctorate in a constituency that 30 years ago witnessed Mamata Banerjee storm the Left bastion to announce her arrival in mainstream politics.

Located to the south of Kolkata, and cradled by the South 24-Parganas district, the seat witnessed history being made in 1984, when Banerjee, then with the Congress, clinched her first electoral victory by defeating CPI-M heavyweight Somnath Chatterjee.

This is also the same constituency where Banerjee ever conceded defeat in an election, to Marxist opponent Malini Bhattacharya in 1989.

Back to the present, the constituency - with seven assembly segments comprising a mix of rural, semi-urban to urban population - is set to witness another epoch-making fight, as two political greenhorns are pitted against a formidable opponent with years of experience and reputation.

Altogether, 13 candidates are in the fray, seeking blessings from an electorate of over 13 lakh.

While the Banerjee-led state's ruling party Trinamool Congress has nominated Sugata Bose, a Harvard history professor and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's grandnephew, the Left Front nominee is CPI-M heavyweight Sujan Chakraborty, with a doctorate in pharmaceutical science from Jadavpur University.

A known face in the constituency, which he represented in parliament 2004-2009, Chakraborty, during his campaign, finds people identifying with his humble Jadavpur University background while Bose, with his Cambridge University tag and lineage, is the elite outsider.

Adding another dimension to the fight is the Congress candidate, painter Samir Aich, who had earlier aligned himself with the Trinamool during the Nandigram and Singur anti-farmland acquisition movements during the rule of the Left Front and continued to support the Trinamool in television debates after it came to power.
However, Aich faced Banerjee's wrath after he staged a public protest over a rape case and is now one of her fiercest critics.

Aich has the support of incumbent Trinamool MP Kabir Suman, a rebel leader who describes the party supremo as "an autocrat" and the party as an "anarchy which works".

Suman incidentally had defeated Chakraborty in the 2009 general elections by a 56,000 plus margin.

Canvassing for votes, Bose repeatedly mentions his mother Krishna, who won three Lok Sabha polls - twice on Trinamool ticket and once as Congress candidate - from the constituency.

She lost in 2004 to Chakraborty. Both have to their credit a good body of developmental work.

Bose is pitching in to improve quality of primary education in the area, banking on his mother's past record, while Aich wants to walk the righteous way, hoping to restore the fast waning faith of the common man in politics and politicians.

Chakraborty for his part, wants to see through the setting up of research institutes, a part of development in the region that has been "compromised" by the Trinamool government.

As diverse as their agenda is the electorate in Jadavpur, comprising the assembly constituencies - Tollygunge, Jadavpur, Bhangar, Sonarpur (both North and South) and Baruipur (both East and West).

On one hand, it houses refugees from erstwhile East Bengal who set up colonies in Baruipur and on the other end, there is a large semi-urban populace, particularly in Sonarpur, who are increasingly merging with the urban mix seen in Tollygunge.

For the rural belts of Baruipur, Bhangar and Sonarpur, connectivity with the state capital remains a complaint. Maternal and child health is a concern too, while for the urban residents better education, improved traffic management and all-round development is the demand.
Industries, like the glass and surgical clusters in Baruipur, need a reboot.

Despite the anti-incumbency factor at play, the Trinamool seemingly has a strong connect with the masses.

BJP's candidate from Jadavpur, Swarup Prasad Ghosh, has not created much of a buzz, though he hopes to gain from a perceived Narendra Modi wave.

With the multi-crore Saradha chit fund scam flaring up again right before the elections, and the Supreme Court ordering a CBI inquiry, the Trinamool may see a dent in its vote share - but it would be interesting to see which of its opponents ends up as the beneficiary.

Also of interest is the mood among the large population of the erstwhile refugees from Bangladesh. With BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi repeatedly raising the issue of infiltrators from Bangladesh in his public meetings, and declaring they would have to go back bag and baggage.

By making a distinction between infiltrators and refugees, the BJP is hoping to corner additional votes.

Jadavpur seems anybody's game.