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‘Things changed because of her’ — Why Bhabanipur has voted for Mamata Banerjee since 2011

The residents of Bhabanipur constituency, where bypoll will be held on 30 Sept, credit Mamata Banerjee for 'change', say she ensured that their living conditions improve.

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Kolkata: Sixty-one-year-old Nimai Chandra Saha, a hawker, was born in a rundown one-room shack in Bhabanipur’s Harish Chandra Mukherjee street. He grew up amid the dirt and squalor surrounding his basti, as the cluster of slums are called in Kolkata.

Located in narrow lanes with barely enough space for one person to move at a time, residents of this basti, who mostly work in the informal sector — daily wagers, taxi drivers, cooks, maids and labourers — have been living here cheek by jowl, down the generations.

But Saha says despite the cramped living conditions, there is a difference of day and night between the basti he grew up in and the basti of now. “I have seen the change here… it’s all because of Didi (CM Mamata Banerjee)…. she has given dignity to poor people like us,” he says.

There are LED lights in the basti now, load shedding is a thing of the past, toilets have been built or refurbished under the state government’s Mission Nirmal Bangla scheme, bathing places have been built to cater to every 2-4 houses, and clean drinking water and cemented pavements have been provided.

Saha’s next-door neighbour Tara Singh, 68, who works as a cook in housing societies agrees. “It’s not that earlier nobody did any work here. But since Didi became the MLA from here, she ensured that our living conditions improve,” Singh, who has been living there for the last 38 years says.

As one travels around Bhabanipur, the assembly constituency from where Banerjee has won election twice since 2011, this is a common refrain among slum residents. She enjoys sort of a cult status among them. The fact that she lives nearby in Kalighat has helped.

Bhabanipur resident
68-year-old Tara Singh who lives in a basti in Bhabanipur says their living conditions have improved after Mamata Banerjee became an MLA from their constituency | Praveen Jain | ThePrint

“She (Banerjee) is the one who comes and stands with us whenever we need her. Why should we vote for anybody else but Didi?” asks Debashish Das, an idol maker, who lives in Chetla’s Mistripukur basti.

It’s not only the poor in Bhabanipur who have benefited from the welfare measures. Over the years, development, especially of civic infrastructure, has touched the upscale neighbourhoods of the constituency too.

Bhabanipur has got special attention as the constituency has been Banerjee’s traditional seat since 2011 when she contested from here for the first time.

She will now contest a bypoll from the constituency on 30 September. In the assembly polls early this year, the Trinamool Congress chief decided to contest from Nandigram, only to lose against her bete noir Suvendu Adhikari.

The bypoll has been necessitated because of it. The law mandates that a minister has to contest a bypoll within six months of taking charge if she/he wants to retain the post.


Also read: No manpower, little resources — Left’s Bhabanipur campaign reflects state of party in Bengal


Welfare schemes, better health infra

However, it isn’t just the basti development that has helped Bhabanipur become a Mamata stronghold.

The Trinamool Congress government has also been able to take various welfare schemes that it launched after coming to power in 2011 to people’s doorstep. A fact also acknowledged by opposition parties.

Kallol Majumdar, the CPI(M)’s Kolkata district committee secretary, told ThePrint that the Left vote base among the poor has been taken over by the Trinamool Congress to a large extent through a plethora of welfare schemes targeting them.

Take for example the British-era Seth Sukhlal Karnani Memorial (SSKM) hospital which was expanded after Banerjee came to power for the first time in 2011. A new trauma centre at the SSKM hospital has also come up.

A new state-of-the-art cancer hospital is proposed opposite the SSKM hospital.

Sukhlal Karnani Memorial Hospital in Kolkata
Sukhlal Karnani Memorial Hospital in Kolkata | Praveen Jain | ThePrint

In ward number 71 of the constituency, the Ramrikdas Haralalka hospital, which was lying abandoned for more than a decade has been revamped and made operational. Besides, the Kolkata Police Hospital is now open to the general public also.

“The improved health infrastructure is not only helping people of Bhabanipur but from across the state,” said Pradeep Singh, who owns a pharmacy near Gurudwara Sant Kutia.

In Khidirpur, a Muslim-dominated area, which also comes under Bhabanipur constituency, a maternity home has been constructed.

In nearby Mominpore and Bodyguard Lines in Alipur, where water logging is a perennial problem, a pumping station is being built. “Earlier after the rains, it took a week to drain out the water. A pumping station is under construction in the area to pump out the accumulated water,” said Hidayat Rasool, a 34-year-old shopkeeper in Bodyguard Lines.

Many public parks have also come up in the constituency, besides new bus stands.

Like the bastis, residents of Muslim pockets are loyal Trinamool voters and Banerjee is banking on their votes too on September 30.

But all is not hunky-dory.

Though roads have been constructed or re-laid in the last few years, traffic congestion has become a major problem.

Waterlogged roads after a downpour have become common. “Though the Trinamool Congress has done a lot of work here, there are issues that affect the day-to-day life of people like waterlogging and traffic congestion that continues like earlier,” says Kulwant Singh, a businessman living in Bhabanipur.


Also read: Sat Sri Akal, Inshallah, Joy Durga — how Mamata’s speeches change with locality in Bhabanipur


BJP pins hopes on non-Bengali voters

In the run-up to the bypoll, the BJP, meanwhile, is hopeful that non-Bengali communities will support their candidate Priyanka Tibrewal and help them retain its 35 per cent vote share.

Over 40 per cent of residents in Bhabanipur constituency are non-Bengali. These include Marwaris, Sikhs, Gujaratis, and Jains.

“Lot will depend on the voter turnout. There is apprehension among a section of the voters supporting the BJP that they could be targeted by Trinamool Congress…. Many of them might not turn up on voting day,” a West Bengal BJP unit leader who did not want to be named told ThePrint.


Also read: BJP workers regaining confidence, ready to fight ‘Taliban Trinamool’, new Bengal chief says


 

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