The Indian Express

In Amphan ‘mishandling’, Siddiqui’s party sees its chance

In the 2018 panchayat polls, Bhangar in South 24 Parganas district hit the headlines after eight independent candidates, who were stopped by TMC goons from filing nominations, of Polerhat Gram Panchayat submitted their papers through WhatsApp after a Calcutta High Court order.

According to Mohammad Selim, a resident of Nolpukur village, the incident set off the anti-incumbency wave in this TMC stronghold of Bhangar scheduled to vote on Saturday in the fourth phase. “The villagers wanted to exercise their voting rights but were denied by the ruling party goons in the 2018 panchayat polls. Independent candidates had to file nomination through WhatsApp due to terror tactics of the TMC. We are not against Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee but local leaders who have looted our money,” said Selim, showing his tin-roofed mud house, which was damaged in last year’s Cyclone Amphan. He is among many who did not receive any Amphan relief compensation.

Even before this, there was an ant-TMC undercurrent.

In 2017, a land agitation against a power grid project led to the killing of two persons. In the Panchayat polls, five of the eight Independents backed by a local outfit — Jomi, Jibika, Bastutantra O Paribesh Raksha Committee (Land, Livelihood, Ecology and Environment Protection Committee) — won.

Though the state ended the power grid stalemate, the scar remains. “If we get a good alternative to the TMC then we will definitely take our chances. It is better to give another party a chance as we are fed up with Dadagiri of TMC leaders,” said Abid Islam.

With 70 per cent Muslim population, Bhangar has now more alternatives than ever before.

United Front’s candidate Nausad Siddiqui, brother of Indian Secular Front chief and Furfura cleric Abbas Siddiqui, seems to have struck a chord with voters.

Affectionately referred to as ‘Bhaijaan’, Nausad Siddiqui is riding high with little help from the anti-incumbency sentiment.

“The TMC did not nothing except looting people. People are tired of their strongarm tactics. They want an alternative. They want jobs, rights and most of all a better system where there will be no corruption and violence,” Nausad told The Indian Express during a rally. People — young and old — came out to get a glimpse of their ‘Bhaijaan’ and showered rose petals on him. “I have been getting a lot of love from the people. It seems that they have found the alternative this time,” said Nausad.

Since 2001, Bhangar remained divided between the CPM and the TMC. In the last three elections, the electorate has alternated between the TMC and CPI(M). In 2016, the TMC snatched the seat back from the CPI (M) by 18,124 votes.

It is not only anti-incumbency, the TMC has been trying contain infighting between its musclemen: Arabul Islam, Kaiser Ahmed and Nannu Hossain. So much so that the party fielded doctor and public health activist Rezaul Karim to placate all factions. However, Islam, who had won the seat on a TMC ticket in 2006, broke down before media on March 6, a day after TMC announced its candidate list.

Karim, close to Ahmed, later managed to sort out the differences with all leaders, and the party is looking to retain the seat. “It is true that not everyone has got cyclone compensation they deserved. In a list of 100 people, eight to ten people may have been excluded. The party had prioritised those who were most affected. The Centre should have sent more funds,” he claimed. The TMC candidate asserted that only the TMC can protect minority voters. “We are not seasonal leaders. We will give the people protection. I don’t know whether the ISF has any organisational strength here, but we are not underestimating anyone,” he said.

The BJP on the other hand has very little presence here and its only hope lies in the division of minority votes between the TMC and the United Front.

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