Four-cornered battle awaits Congress legacy-laden Raiganj in Bengal (Constituency Profile)

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Raiganj, April 6 (IANS) North Dinajpur district’s Raiganj, once a Congress bastion, is set to witness a gritty four-way fight with the CPI-M’s sitting MP, Mohammed Salim, facing a tough challenge from the BJP, Congress leader Deepa Dasmunsi and West Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress in the coming Lok Sabha polls.

The seat was a major bone of contention between the Left Front and the Congress, which were looking to seal a seat adjustment deal in the state. Dasmunsi was loathe to part with the constituency citing its connect with her late husband, Congress stalwart Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi.

Though the Congress High Command initially prevailed on her to leave the seat, the LF-Congress talks fell through in the end, resulting in a four-cornered contest in the constituency.

While the LF spearhead CPI-M and Congress have stuck to their trusted lieutenants Salim and Dasmunsi respectively, The Trinamool Congress has nominated a turncoat – former Congress legislator Kanaia Lal Agarwal – in place of Satya Ranjan Dasmunshi, who finished fourth five years ago.

The BJP has replaced its 2014 poll candidate, actor Nimu Bhowmik, with Debasree Chaudhury, one of its state unit general secretaries.

North Dinajpur, a traditional Congress stronghold, saw the party bag the seat since the creation of the constituency in 1962 to 1977 and then again from 1980 to 1991 at a stretch.

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The CPI-M captured the seat in 1991, and retained it twice more in 1996 and 1998, before former Union Minister Priya Rnjan Dasmunsi won the seat back for two consecutive terms (1999-2009).

After Dasmunsi fell ill, his wife Deepa continued his legacy in 2009 but lost to CPI-M’s Salim in the last General Elections with a narrow margin of less than 2,000 votes.

While, the BJP or Trinamool Congress are yet to taste victory in the constituency, the former increased its vote share by 14 percent and the latter by 17 percent in 2014, securing the third and fourth places respectively.

The Muslim dominated constituency comprises seven assembly segments -Islampur, Goalpokhar, Chakulia, Karandighi, Hemtabad, Kaliaganj and Raiganj.

As per the Election Commission data, the total number of electorate is 15.95 lakh, of which a sizeable portion belongs to the minority community – which plays a crucial role in deciding the outcome.

Confident about retaining the seat, Salim said development and maintaining communal harmony are the major issues this time.

“In the last four years, a number of divisive issues were deliberately brought up by the BJP and Trinamool to disturb the peace in the district. Therefore the question of people’s unity and ensuring communal harmony is of utmost importance,” Salim told IANS.

Salim, who tops the list among state MPs in terms of MPLAD funds’ utilisation, claimed his winning margin will increase as people are happy with his development drive.

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“The last time I was new. Opposition said I was an outsider. But in the last four years, people have seen me raise their issues in the parliament and focus on development,” he said.

The Trinamool Congress, that has set a target of winning all 42 Lok Sabha seats in Bengal this time, is eyeing a major share of the minority votes in the constituency. The BJP, on the other hand, is banking on a three-way split of the minority votes among the Left, Congress and Trinamool, and is confident of picking up the major share of the Hindu vote.

The saffron party has made significant inroads in the district following the killing of two youth activists in police firing in the district’s Darivit High School last year while holding an agitation to demand the recruitment of teachers in literature and science subjects and protesting against appointment of Urdu teachers.

State BJP President Dilip Ghosh also held a public meeting in Darivit and said the rally was a homage to the “martyred” students.

Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned the name of the two deceased youth and attacked the Mamata Banerjee government on this issue during his April 3 rally in Siliguri.

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Party candidate Debasree Chaudhury, who launched her campaign from Darivit, said the incident was yet another instance of the appeasement politics of the Trinamool Congress government.

“The BJP has shown solidarity with the movement but the sitting MP or former MP did not stand by the villagers. We are also hopeful of getting a share of minority votes from here,” Chaudhury told IANS.

“The health infrastructure, rail and road connectivity in the region is languishing. The work of expanding NH-34 has been stalled due to Trinamool’s syndicate raj. I will work on all these issues if I win,” said Chaudhury.

Dasmunsi, in her campaign, is trying to strike an emotional chord with the people by invoking the name of her husband, a son of the soil, and detailing the development he ushered in the area. For Dasmunsi, every vote for her is a vote for the Congress, for secularism and for India’s pluralism.

The Trinamool’s Agarwal is also canvassing vigorously by taking out bike rallies, going door-to-door, holding padyaytras and crisscrossing the constituency in open vehicles. Trinamool is highlighting the development projects initiated by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for various sections of the population, specially the minorities and assailing the Modi government’s “divisive politics”.

(Milinda Ghosh Roy can be contacted at [email protected])

–IANS

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