Home Editor Picks Bengal’s most-deprived region Jangalmahal sees fierce battle

Bengal’s most-deprived region Jangalmahal sees fierce battle

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Bengal’s most-deprived region Jangalmahal sees fierce battle

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 Leader of the Opposition in West Bengal Assembly Suvendu Adhikari. File

Leader of the Opposition in West Bengal Assembly Suvendu Adhikari. File
| Photo Credit: PTI

Eight seats spread across five districts in the southwestern parts of West Bengal, including the coastal district of Purba Medinipur, head to polls in the penultimate phase of the Lok Sabha election on May 25.

Southwestern Bengal, popularly known as Jangalmahal region, witnessed large-scale violence between Communist Party of India (Maoist) cadre and security forces from 2007-11. It is set for a direct contest between the Trinamool Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The region has been on the boil for the past few years due to the Kurmi agitation, with the community listed in Other Backward Class (OBC) category demanding inclusion in the Scheduled Tribe (ST) list. Leaders of Kurmi community have fielded Independent candidates on seats across the Jangalmahal region.

One of the most deprived regions of the State, stoppage of funds under the rural employment guarantee Act (MGNREGA) for the past two years has resulted in widespread economic distress, and emerged as a major poll issue.

The eight seats here that go to polls on May 25 are Purulia, Jhargram, Midnapore, Ghatal, Bankura, Bishnupur, Tamluk, and Kanthi

While Purulia is up for a contest between sitting BJP MP Jyotirmoy Singh Mahato and Trinamool candidate Shantiram Mahato, Jhargram has seen both parties field new faces – Sahitya Akademi winner and Santali author Kalipada Soren pads up for Trinamool against the BJP’s Pranat Tudu, a doctor. At Midnapore, the contest is between two actor-turned-politicians, BJP’s Aginimitra Paul and Trinamool’s June Mailah. Both are MLAs from their respective parties.

The adjoining Ghatal seat too sees prominent names of Bengali film industry, Trinamool’s Dipak Adhikari alias Dev and the  BJP’s Hiranmoy Chatterjee alias Hiran, cross swords. Mr. Dev has been representing the constituency since 2014 and BJP’s Mr. Hiran is the MLA of Kharagpur Sadar Assembly segment.

At Bankura, sitting BJP MP Subhas Sarkar, a doctor, is pitted against Trinamool leader and advocate Arup Chakraborty. The Bishnupur seat has already grabbed headlines as former spouses, BJP MP Saumitra Khan and Trinamool’s Sujata Mondal, are locked in a heated battle. In the 2019 election, when a court had imposed restrictions on Mr. Khan campaigning in Bishnupur, it was Ms. Sujata who led the campaign on his behalf. The couple divorced in February 2023.

The most interesting contest, however, is at Tamluk where former Calcutta High Court Judge Abhijit Gangopadhyay is contesting on a BJP ticket. Mr. Gangopadhyay, who had passed several orders directing investigation in the West Bengal recruitment scam, has of late courted controversy for remarks directed at Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, for which he had been censured by the Election Commission. The former judge is contesting against Trinamool student leader Debangshu Bhattacharya.

Soumendu Adhikari, the brother of BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari, is contesting from the adjoining seat of Kanthi and locks horns against Uttam Barik of the Trinamool. Both Tamluk and Kanthi Lok Sabha seats have been held by members of the Adhikari family since 2009 and the election here is seen as a prestige battle for the Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari.

Mr. Suvendu Adhikari, who quit the Trinamool to join BJP in December 2020, also holds considerable influence over the districts of Paschim Medinipur, Jhargram, and Purulia and it remains to be seen whether the BJP can hold its edge in the region like the last time. Five of the eight seats in the region – Purulia, Jhargram, Medinipur, Bankura and Bishnupur – were won by the BJP in 2019 while the Trinamool won Ghatal, Tamluk and Kanthi.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah have held several election rallies across these constituencies, and so have Trinamool leaders Ms. Banerjee and Abhishek Banerjee. The issues of stoppage of Central funds, corruption in the State recruitment scam, and ST demand of Kurmis have dominated the poll narrative along with recent developments like Ms. Banerjee’s alleged remarks on monks as well as a Calcutta High Court order cancelling OBC reservations after 2010. There are 79 candidates in the poll fray across these eight Lok Sabha seats.

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