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Bengal Round 1: LF doesn’t talk development here

Monday 17 April 2006, by NAGCHOUDHURY*Subrata

JHARGRAM, APRIL 16 : West Bengal will vote tomorrow for 45 of the 294 seats in the first phase of polling which will cover three districts of West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia. An unprecedented security blanket has been thrown over the area where a Maoist group, active in some pockets, has called for a poll boycott.

Nearly 60,000 paramilitary forces have been deployed in addition to the state’s own police personnel. Following the Election Commission’s directive, nearly 3,000 digital cameras have been installed in booths to record the polling process and the number of EC observers has been increased substantially.

With such an arrangement, the focus is now on the turn out. This is one region where constituencies record 80-85 per cent polling which the Opposition alleges is manipulated by the ruling Left Front.

Strict monitoring by the EC this time means it will not be easy for parties to adopt “unfair means”. The electoral rolls have undergone thorough scrutiny and electronic photo identity cards have been made mandatory for voters.

The 45 seats in contention, however, constitute one of the Left Front’s solid bases. Its vote share here varies between 50-56 per cent. In successive elections, the LF has maintained supremacy over rivals by making a near clean sweep. In 1996, it won 41 out of 45 seats and in 2001, the LF won 39 seats.

The success is mainly due to distribution of land to a large number of SC/ST farmers, who constitute a large section of the electorate.

But there is dissent too in many areas, given the lack of development, water for irrigation and health care. So, when Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee came here for campaigning, he did not speak much on development. He largely talked about terror. The slogan of industrial development that sweeps the LF’s campaign drive for a record seventh term in office in Kolkata and its adjoining urban belt dissipates into a haze here. Because this is one region that constitutes the Bengal backyard which lags behind in development. It is one region where labour is not only cheap but it is “surplus”.

When the Election Commission ordered a thorough revision of the electoral rolls early this year, as many as 2,000 bonafide voters had their names deleted. The reason: they had moved to neighbouring districts of Hooghly, Burdwan and also Howrah in search of jobs.

When the EC staff went door to door for verification, there was none to explain their absence. These 2,000 marginal farmers had managed to get jobs for which they have to stay back for nearly five to six months. They come back with some savings which they invest in home building or buying agricultural implements.

Even as the region faces the onset of a grueling summer with paddy fields cracking up, the irony lies in the fact that these lands are shown in government records as “irrigated” areas.

Pitambar Mandi says the Jharkhand Party (Hansda Group) has teamed up with Congress and Trinamool in the three districts. “The combination has the potential to upset a couple of seats but not dent the Left’s domination,” concedes Mandi.

See online : The Indian Express

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