May 7, 2009

Small car big factor for urban vote bank

5 May 2009, 0253 hrs IST,
Prithvijit Mitra, TNN

KOLKATA: As the afternoon sun beats down mercilessly on a crowded, treeless Kasba Road, Ajay Dhar crouches under the tin shed of a tea-stall. Sipping from an earthen cup, he wipes off beads of sweat from his brows and stares at an election hoarding that talks about the Nano's exit. "They also wanted the Nano, but not in West Bengal," it screamed. "It could have changed things here, at least to an extent. Who knows, some people could have got jobs," mumbles Dhar, a private firm employee.
The world's cheapest car that weaved a prosperity dream only to drive out dumping the state unceremoniously evokes myriad emotions in south Kolkata. Outside Singur, this is perhaps the only constituency where voters are faced with the Nano dilemma. Candidate Mamata Banerjee being the binding thread. Most roadside discussions and tea-stall adda sessions invariably veer around to the car.
And the reactions to the Nano episode are both varied and curious. From total indifference to despair for the loss, south Kolkatans can't get over the Nano. "There are more relevant issues. Roads, water supply and traffic problems. But you can't wish away the Nano for it reflects the candidates' views on industrialization and their priorities. Nobody knows if the Nano would have made a difference. But it did make people dream and its abrupt end has left many disappointed," said Mohammed Qasem, a primary school principal from Kidderpore.
Tapas Jana, a private firm employee from Kasba, agreed. Jana had been saving money to buy the car. He has lost interest following "the ugly tussle" that it led to. "People like me can't afford any other car. But after all the trouble and the politics, it makes no sense," Jana said. It's not just a missed opportunity for the middle-class, but an economic setback for the region, felt some. Artist Anup Bhattacharya was not planning to buy the car that is on display at a showroom less than a kilometre away from his Ballygunge home. "But we needed it for the sake of our youngsters. It could have created a few more jobs. In this employment-starved zone, even a 100 jobs are welcome. It would've served as a starting point for industrial revival," rued Bhattacharya, munching on a biscuit at the Kasba tea-stall. But would the Nano influence voting? South Kolkatans doubted it. But it will definitely be on every voter's mind as they press the button.
A car can't be an election issue even if its costs a lakh, felt social worker and pottery designer Anupama Jalan. Sitting at her Alipur residence, she said it was strange that the Nano had become the talking point in a constituency plagued by numerous civic problems. "I see everyone discussing the car, probably because Mamata Banerjee is the candidate. There are so many issues that are far more important roads, garbage clearance and transport. Few can afford to buy a car," said Jalan.
The Nano effect will have a marginal impact on voting, agreed independent candidate Nishat Khan. Moving around in his hoodless jeep, Khan has been interacting with voters all over the constituency. A banner on the vehicle exhorts people to vote for him for better civic amenities, higher literacy and a greener city. Nowhere has he encountered voters who were very bitter about Nano, said Khan. "But yes, it has been talked about. It is the middle-class and the lower middle class who are talking about it more. But it will disappear from their radar soon as the more immediate problems start tormenting them. CPM has planted it here to turn voters against Trinamool," he said.

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