He is a former Indian football skipper. Contesting from a Trinamool Congress ticket, he is locked in an extremely close fight. No, we are not talking about Baichung Bhutiya here. Unlike Baichung who mostly played for East Bengal, Prasun Banerjee was the doting star of Mohun Bagan junta. To the new age Bengali, Prasun is more famous as a TV commentator with a gift of the gab. The veteran footballer is trying to bring every bit of his oratorical skills mixed with dollops of nostalgia and hope to get re-elected from Howrah LokSabha constituency.
A quick Wikipedia search tells me, Howrah is almost 500 years old, nearly 200 years more than its twin city of Kolkata. Not that it needed a search; a cursory look at the city suggests that it has aged greatly and not exactly gracefully. Howrah almost stands for everything that is wrong with Bengal today.
Once known as “Sheffield of the East”, Howrah today is merely a shadow of its former self. Like rest of Bengal, industry has long deluded this once hub of manufacturing. All is left are some small factories and deluge of migrant workers. Situated in the other side of Ganga, the city with pitiable civic amenity and planning is also home to many rich Marwari businessmen and traders. This contradictory milieu gives the city its unique cosmopolitan nature. It probably gets reflected in Howrah’s electoral records, which has often bucked the general trend of the state to choose an unlikely victor.
No open net
Normally all seats in Kolkata and its surrounding areas are expected to land in TMC’s kitty. But Howrah continues to be one of the major points of concern for the ruling regime. The city had a by-election just last year after the death of TMC MP Ambica Banerjee. Prasun Banerjee won but contrary to expectation only by 26,000 votes. Interestingly, BJP did not field its candidate at By-election. Otherwise almost surely this Arjun award winner would have bit the dust.
Prasun knows that the fight is only tougher this time around. Thus braving the heat, he is going to every para (household) playing his celebrity status to hilt. He is generous with his promises of allocating funds for sports and other youth affairs. He hopes that didi’s charisma and his own image will see him through.
Sridip Bhattacharya is just the kind of leader CPIM needs in this time of crisis. Alumni of IIT Shibpur, Sridip has walked the talk by renouncing wealth for ideology unlike most Facebook comrades. From Adam Smith to Chomsky, this intellectual bong likes his books and connects easily with the middle classes. Sridip is also reaching out to the underclass who always voted for the Left till recently. Many believe this election is for Sridip to lose.
Unlike last time, BJP is all set to contest. It has fielded George Baker from Howrah, who is a sort of a Bong version of Tom Alter. This “gora sahib” (white foreigner) who is an actor of certain repute was initially perceived to be an odd choice. But George Baker is getting huge crowds wherever he is campaigning. Sahib may not win but his presence to cut votes is ideal for divide and rule policy of CPIM. BJP workers though believe a candidate from Hindi heartland would have been a better choice.
Howrah citizens have always been grumpy about getting step motherly treatment in comparison to Kolkata. Thus when Mamata Banerjee decided to shift her workplace from Writers building located in the heart of Kolkata to “Nabanno” in Howrah, citizens were elated. They felt that finally the city has got its due attention. Will that personal sense of gratitude play a role in this election? Just three weeks to find out that answer.