March 26, 2009

Catch-22 for Trinamool, Cong in mixed-up doubles

Kolkata: Congress turncoats Somen Mitra and Sudip Bandopadhyay, now in fray on Trinamool tickets, face ire of their former and current party workers Somen Mitra and Sudip Bandopadhyay, both state Congress stalwarts who switched sides to join the Trinamool just before the Lok Sabha election dates were announced, are faced with a double whammy.

As if taking on CPI(M) heavyweights were not enough, the two have to grapple with an undercurrent of opposition from sections of party workers of both the Congress and the Trinamool, which have since joined hands. Mitra, a former state Congress chief, is contesting from Diamond Harbour while Bandopadhyay is in the fray for Kolkata North, both on Trinamool tickets.

Despite an alliance between the Congress and Trinamool, Congress workers are reluctant to work for a leader who abandoned them just over a month ago and the Trinamool cadres are yet to accept their new leaders. Both Mitra and Bandopadhyay were Congress MLAs and were expelled from the party, before being dismissed from the state Assembly by the Speaker after they left the Congress. Mitra is contesting the Lok Sabha election for the first time.

“Though we have been asked to campaign for Trinamool candidates, it is difficult to ask and explain to a Congress worker to join a rally or campaign for a leader who had just abandoned them for an election ticket,” said Shibaji Singha Roy, general secretary of West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee.

“Just the other day, we demanded the expulsion of the two leaders from our party and wanted them barred from the state Assembly. Now we have to campaign for them. Our workers are asking if the common voter will take us with our two-faced attitude. Yet, we are trying to make our workers understand,” Roy added.

Mitra and Bandopadhyay, however, are high on optimism. “I was always with the people of North Kolkata. As an MP, as an MLA, I have served North Kolkata. It is clear in people’s mind as to why I left the Congress. A large section of Congress and Trinamool workers is with me. I am sure of victory,” Bandopadhyay said.

Mitra pinned his hopes on grassroots workers. “People know why I left the Congress and floated my own party, Progressive Indira Congress. The grassroots workers know me and respect me,” he said. Mitra has been able to rope in Badal Bhattacharjee, his close associate during his Congress days, as his election agent to attract more Congress workers to join his campaign.

In Diamond Harbour, Mitra is pitted against CPI(M) strongman and sitting MP Samik Lahiry, who defeated Trinamool candidate Sougata Roy by a margin of 1,53,784 votes. Lahiry got about 51.5 per cent of votes, whereas Roy secured 33.13 per cent. Daulat Ali Sheikh of the Congress got about 11 per cent of the total votes.

Bandopadhyay is pitted against CPI(M) heavyweight Mahammad Salim in Kolkata North, which was formed after delimitation adding areas of erstwhile Kolkata North East and North West constituencies, both of whom were won by the Left party.

In 2004, Salim had defeated his nearest rival, Trinamool’s Ajit Panja, by 73,780 votes in Kolkata North East. In Kolkata North West, Sudhansu Sil of CPI(M) had defeated his nearest rival Subrata Mukherjee of the Trinamool by 43,004 votes.

The CPI(M) too is banking on the “flip-flop” factor against the two candidates. “My opponent was first in the Congress, then changed to the Trinamool, and now is back again in the Congress fold. He has flip-flopped so many times that even voters have lost count. I do not think people will vote for such a candidate,” Salim said.

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