Lok Sabha Elections 2024 | Mamata remains X-factor for Kolkata Dakshin seat amid opposition’s efforts to dent her popularity

The truly cosmopolitan seat of Kolkata Dakshin is dominated by the quintessential Bengali 'bhadralok' community and is home to the chief minister.
Last Updated : 31 May 2024, 09:00 IST
Last Updated : 31 May 2024, 09:00 IST

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Kolkata: Despite the 2024 Lok Sabha elections largely revolving around Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his poll narratives, one constituency in West Bengal is expected to vote around the politics that Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee embodies.

The truly cosmopolitan seat of Kolkata Dakshin is dominated by the quintessential Bengali “bhadralok” community and is home to the chief minister. It has remained loyal to the leader since 1991, for an unbroken 33 years, the first seven of which were during Banerjee’s stint as a Congress leader.

In fact, Kolkata Dakshin forms the cherry on the Trinamool pie of the cluster of nine south Bengal seats voting in the final phase on June 1 where, with the sole exception of Jaynagar, no opposition parties have managed to put a dent since 2009, two years prior to Banerjee’s assent to state power.

In Jaynagar, TMC’s winning streak has remained unhindered since 2014.

Political observers find no reason to believe that Banerjee would be removed from the centre stage of the south Kolkata voters’ minds even in this edition of the polls, regardless of who the TMC candidate for the seat is or who the electors choose to vote for, despite the sharply polarised political theatre of Bengal replete with scopious set of twists and turns.

Simply put, the dominating question at the grassroots is whether the volley of allegations related to corruption and coercion raked up by the opposition against the Trinamool would obfuscate the charisma and charm that Banerjee still holds among her followers.

A cursory view of the constituency demography reveals that Kolkata Dakshin is home to both the city’s uber-rich and slum dwellers with a vast number of Bengali middle-class citizens tucked in between.

With nearly 35 per cent middle-class citizens, the seat comprises over 25 per cent Urdu and Bangla-speaking Muslims, about 18 per cent Marwaris, some 12 per cent Gujaratis, close to 7 per cent Sikhs and even a considerable population of Indians with Chinese roots.

“There’s not a single way that voters in this constituency think,” said Abhirup Sarkar, economist and a voter from the segment.

“The less privileged are bothered with basic infrastructure and personal benefits from the government. The affluent, on the other hand, are more likely to be aware of the broad issues of the state and the country,” he said.

While the TMC has repeated sitting MP Mala Roy as its candidate from the seat, the BJP has relocated its outgoing MP from Raigunj in north Bengal and former central minister Debasree Chaudhuri to try and break the jinx.

The joint Left-Congress challenge to the duo comes from CPI-M candidate and social activist Saira Shah Halim, daughter-in-law to erstwhile West Bengal assembly Speaker Hasim Abdul Halim and niece to actor Naseeruddin Shah, who unsuccessfully contested the 2022 state by-polls from Ballygunge, one of the seven assembly segments of Kolkata Dakshin.

Despite the absolute domination of Mamata Banerjee who remained a six-time MP from the seat before moving to state administration, the BJP registered an impressive foothold in the previous edition of the polls.

The saffron camp candidate, Chandra Kumar Bose, grand nephew of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, bagged nearly 4.18 lakh votes last time, the highest that any opposition candidate managed to garner in four decades, finishing with some 1.5 lakh votes behind Roy.

Bose, who has quit the party since, feels that the dual factors of a pro-Narendra Modi wave five years ago coupled with middle-class’ emotion for Netaji helped him amass more than double the votes compared to what former BJP state president Tathagata Roy managed in 2014.

“I think the TMC’s corruption exposure will have an impact. At the same time, the party’s Hindutva-based divisive politics will obfuscate that advantage since the majority of voters here are averse to it,” Bose opined.

Aware that her real fight is against Banerjee, Chaudhuri feels that the so-called Mamata fortress is not impregnable.

“Back in 2019, Mamata Banerjee sought votes from people asking them to consider her as the candidate from all 42 seats of the state. If she is invincible, how did BJP win 18 seats then?” the BJP candidate asked, insisting that corruption in TMC has remained the sole focus of her campaign.

“There’s nothing called a ‘fortress’. The people who put you on a pedestal can drag you down no time if you take them for granted,” Chaudhuri asserted.

The seat has three major talking points, believes Maidul Islam, a political thinker and constituency resident.

“Will the middle-class vote, who previously supported brand-Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, return to the Left-Congress kitty? Whether the urban poor remain with Mamata and whether the Muslim voters largely stick to the TMC like they have in the past?” Islam explained.

The analyst said that the TMC’s performance here would also be an audit of the state’s institutional delivery of welfare schemes pitted against people’s confusion over corruption and Sandeshkhali issues.

Those questions didn't bother Priyankar Das, a college student, who was spotted proudly waving a Trinamool flag at a street corner meeting which Banerjee addressed in Kalighat.

“The opposition is fulfilling its dharma of saying things that they need to say. Didi is still in our hearts and she hasn’t lost an iota of respect,” the student said.

Roy couldn’t agree more. “It’s the people’s emotion for Mamata di, her steadfastness in combating the saffron and red that cuts ice with her followers,” she said.

Halim, though, reposed her faith on the joint election machinery of the Left and the Congress to improve on her capital of nearly 1.6 lakh votes the two parties had bagged last time.

“My ability to speak four languages is vastly resonating with the cosmopolitan electorate of this constituency where I am already grounded. We have made enormous inroads into the BJP vote bank,” she said, outlining her USP.

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Published 31 May 2024, 09:00 IST

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