Lok Sabha Elections in India will be held in 7 phases starting April 11. Counting of the votes will be done on May 23.
The Baharampur Lok Sabha constituency in West Bengal is set to witness a triangular battle between Congress' Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Trinamool's Apurba Sarkar and BJP's Krishna Juardar Arya in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Going against the Left Front's decision not to put up a candidate for the seat despite the collapse of its seat adjustment talks with Congress, LF partner Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) has nominated Eid Mohammed. But LF chairman Biman Bose has made it clear that it violated the combine's stand, and asked RSP to withdraw from the race.
The Baharampur parliamentary constituency has been a happy hunting ground for the Congress since 1999, electing the party's formidable leader Chowdhury in four back-to-back battles.
With the RSP nominee not getting the backing of the LF, Murshidabad strongman Chowdhury seems confident of a fifth straight term, despite a determined charge by the Trinamool Congress.
Baharampur, the administrative headquarters of Bengal's one-time capital Murshidabad district, is also the seventh largest city in the state.
The constituency comprises seven assembly segments -- Burwan, Kandi, Bharatpur, Rejinagar, Beldanga, Baharampur and Naoda and has over 16 lakh voters, nearly half of them belonging to the minority community.
Chowdhury, the sitting MP and the former state Congress chief, defeated Trinamool Congress' singer-turned-politician Indranil Sen by over 3.5 lakh votes in the 2014 General Elections.
RSP's Pramothes Mukherjee, who had been Chowdhury's closest rival on three occasions prior to 2014, came a close third while Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate Debesh Kumar Adhikary emerged a distant fourth.
In 2019, the seat is set to witness a triangular battle with Trinamool fielding Chowdhury's once trusted soldier, Apurba Sarkar, and BJP giving the ticket to Krishna Juardar Arya.
The Left Front has so far chosen to stay away despite the collapse of its seat adjustment talks with Congress last month.
Baharampur was once a stronghold of RSP, whose legendary leader Tridib Chaudhuri won seven consecutive terms from 1952 to 1984. Though Congress managed to sneak away a victory in the 1984 polls, the Left party swiftly took it back after five years and held on to the seat for four more terms till 1999.
The RSP claims it opted to field Eid Mohammed following a "strong demand" among its activists at the grassroots level to field a candidate of their own.
"It will be very painful if there isn't a Left candidate in Baharampur. It was decided by the Front not to field a candidate there as we were looking to have a seat adjustment with Congress. But at the party's district level, there was a strong demand that we nominate a candidate as it is a traditional RSP base," senior RSP leader Manoj Bhattacharya told IANS.
But Bose was not impressed. "It was the LF's unanimous decision not to put up a candidate. If despite that RSP has decided to fight in Baharampur, it is a violation of the LF's decision. They have to withdraw".
Chowdhury, affectionately called "Robinhood of Murshidabad" by his supporters for standing by the needy, seemed unperturbed by the developments.
"We have always fought against the Left here. Last time we fought against both the Left and TMC and still won with a big margin. So whether they field a candidate or not, we will not have any problem (in winning)," Chowdhury told IANS.
"It would have been good had the (LF-Congress) seat adjustment materialised across Bengal. In Baharampur people will vote for Congress for the consistent development that we have done," he asserted.
In 2016, the Congress won all the seven assembly segments which constitute Baharampur.
However, a lot has changed in the district and the constituency over the past three years. An aggressive Trinamool Congress has captured the zilla parishad (top tier of the three-rung panchayat system in Bengal) and all municipalities, either through election or through defection.
Scores of Congress leaders and workers, including three MLAs - Abu Taher Khan (Nawda), Rabiul Alam Chowdhury (Rejinagar) and Sarkar (Kandi) - crossed over to the Trinamool, whose supremo Mamata Banerjee has made it a prestige issue to defeat her bete noire Adhir Chowdhury.
Trinamool candidate Sarkar said he is happy to fight an ideological battle against his one-time mentor Chowdhury, as he is "maintaining political double standards" by secretly joining hands with both BJP and Left Front.
"Chowdhury has a secret understanding with a communal force like BJP. The Centre is not providing fund for the Kandi master plan to develop the flood affected area. But he did not raise the issue in parliament even once.
"On the other hand, CPI-M, which murdered hundreds of Congress activists in Murshidabad in the past, is indirectly backing him and did not field any candidate against him. This is an example of his double standard politics. I am fighting to take off his mask in front of people," Sarkar told IANS.
Claiming that the party has made significant inroads in rural areas of the constituency, the BJP claimed that if people gave it the nod, it would work on long-standing issues like rail and road connectivity and industrialisation of the region.
"We have built a good support base in the constituency barring Baharampur town. Our party will do well in Rejinagar, Beldanga, Burwan assembly segments," BJP's Murshidabad South President Gauri Shankar Ghosh noted.
"Baharampur suffers from traffic congestion as there is no flyover in the city. A Baharampur-Sainthia rail line is also a long standing demand. No new industries are coming up. Many factories and sugar-mills have been locked out. We will work on these issues," he added.
Baharampur goes to the hustings on April 29, phase four of the Lok Sabha polls.
The vote count is on May 23.