Where the mind is not without fear

Kolkata, April 20: Three days before the first phase of elections in West Bengal, Kolkata witnessed one of the biggest civic tragedies of recent times when a flyover under construction collapsed and 27 persons lost their lives.

When the voters who live in areas adjoining the flyover exercise their franchise on Thursday, the horrific tragedy is sure to be at the back of their mind.

Seven seats of north Kolkata, including Jorasanko, where the incident occurred, are among the 62 seats that will go to the polls in the third phase on Thursday.

The flyover has been one of the dominant themes in the campaign of the Opposition. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi have raked up the issue during their rallies in the State, blaming the ruling Trinamool Congress for the disaster.

In distress

Below the flyover, there is a lot of fear in people’s minds. Passers-by still pause to look at the massive structure that came crumbling down on March 31 afternoon.

“Neither the ruling party nor any Opposition party has come to us seeking votes. What will they tell us, hundreds of shops have been closed since the day of the accident,” J.B. Nandy, a shopkeeper, told The Hindu.

Mr. Nandy spells out the fear that many in the neighbourhood has — what will happen to the remaining part of the flyover?

The collapse will have “an effect” on the polls, says State’s Women and Child Development Minister Sashi Panja, who is contesting from the adjoining Shyampukur seat in north Kolkata.

Speaking to The Hindu, she recalled the names of those who lost their lives and were injured in her constituency, and said that after coming to power, “a rethink is required” on the remaining structure, as many people do not want it.

During the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, voters in the Jorasanko Assembly segment had given the BJP a substantial lead over others — the BJP secured 45,075 votes, the Trinamool 28,593, the Left 15,463 and the Congress 20,643.

The BJP candidate from the seat and former State president of the party, Rahul Sinha, feels the flyover issue will give him an edge over Smita Bakshi, the Trinamool candidate, who had won in 2011. However, the constituency has a significant number of minority voters who may still prefer the Trinamool when it comes to the Assembly polls.

That the Lok Sabha results, which were influenced by the Modi factor, may not always be an indicator of the public mood is clear from an analysis of the Chowringhee Assembly seat where veteran Congress leader Somen Mitra, with the support of the Left, is taking on Trinamool’s Nayana Bandyopadhyay, wife of party MP Sudip Bandyopadhyay.

In the 2014 election, the Congress led in the Assembly seat with 35,988 votes against the Trinamool which secured 34,440 votes. However, a few months later in the by-election, Nayana Bandyopadhyay won by a margin of over 14,000 votes. The BJP emerged second.

Other than Jorasanko, the BJP has failed to impress in six other Assembly seats with even public meetings of Union Ministers drawing only a small crowd.

Minorities a key factor

Among other issues, minority voters play a crucial role in these constituencies. Political analyst and psephologist Biswanath Chakraborty says that with the Left and the Congress coming together, minorities have two political forces as one unit to bank on.

“Kolkata is a Trinamool stronghold, but chinks in their armour have been visible this time in polls. In seats such as Chowringhee, Jorasanko, Belgachi and Entally, there will be a strong contest,” Mr. Chakraborty said.

Issues such as corruption and unemployment may also cost the ruling party dear, he said.