The stakes are high for the Trinamool Congress in its decade-long bastion of Diamond Harbour, the parliamentary seat from where Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's nephew Abhishek is seeking a re-election, as the result here is likely to have a bearing on the party's internal dynamics and on West Bengal politics. The state's opposition parties claim the result in this seat will be seen as "people's verdict" in favour of or against the TMC chief herself.
Situated on the banks of the Hooghly river in the South 24 Parganas district, the constituency was a Left pocket borough since the late sixties until the TMC, riding on winds of change, breached it in 2009 with then TMC leader Somen Mitra snatching the seat from four-time MP Samik Lahiri.
But Mitra left the TMC and returned to the Congress in early 2014 and is now its state unit chief. In 2014, just three years after his baptism in politics as a leader of the Trinamool Youth Congress, Abhishek Banerjee was given ticket from this seat and won it by polling more than 40 per cent votes.
Since then, he has only grown in stature within the party and is its de facto number two. This rise has not only raised some eyebrows in state politics but also among some party veterans, who allegedly feel sidelined. Mukul Roy was one of those whose fall in TMC was proportional to Abhishek Banerjee's rise. Roy quit the party in 2017 to join the BJP.
Five years ago, the TMC's South 24 Parganas district unit was united and worked together to ensure that Abhishek Banerjee wins by a huge margin. But since then, much water has flown down the river Hooghly and the scenario within the ruling party and in the state has changed drastically.
The Trinamool Congress, which was then literally unchallenged in Bengal is now facing a tough fight from the BJP, with chief minister's nephew being one of the target. The inner-bickering of the ruling party has also come out in open.
According to a TMC leader, who did not wish to be named, Abhishek Banerjee's victory of is a foregone conclusion but "what bothers the party is whether it would be able to increase the margin or not".Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his poll campaign at Diamond Harbour, had even said that Abhishek would be defeated and his office in the area would shut down after the elections.
TMC sources say a victory by a margin bigger than that in 2014 would help him not only quash allegations against him but also cement his position in the party. BJP state president Dilip Ghosh said this election will prove whether Abhishek Banerjee is a true leader or not.
"The TMC is trying to project him as the leader after Mamata Banerjee. He along with his aunt are the star campaigners. But the question is whether he would be able to retain his own seat. "Last time, the opposition was weak and he won. But this time, things are different. If he loses, which he is most likely to, it will be the end of his political journey," Ghosh claimed, adding, "His victory is Mamata Banerjee's victory, his defeat is her defeat."
The BJP has fielded Nilanjan Roy from the seat, who has been booked under the POCSO Act for allegedly sexually molesting a girl inside a house at Falta in West Bengal. Terming the charge a "ploy by the TMC" to malign him, he said, "The people in this area are fed up with the Trinamool Congress. They would teach the TMC a lesson by defeating them in the polls."
Although all the seven assembly constituencies under this Lok Sabha seat are presently held by the TMC, and had given huge lead to the party in 2014, the absence of former district president Sovan Chattopadhyay from active politics might be felt during the polls this time. He was one of the main architects behind the TMC's victory from this seat in 2014 and a section of TMC leaders and cadre, who are followers of Chattopadhyay, have become inactive in the area.
In the last general elections, the BJP had secured around 16 per cent votes whereas the CPI(M) got 34 per cent votes. To win the seat, the saffron party has to not only eat into the CPI(M)'s vote share but also cut into the TMC's share. The factors which is likely to act in favour of the TMC in this seat is a divided opposition, strong grass-root organization of the ruling party and a huge minority population in the area.
"We have been with the masses throughout the year. We are not like those political parties which come to visit the area only during polls. The people of Bengal are with us," Abhishek said. This is one of the few seats in the state, where the CPI(M) is in the second position in terms of fighting against the TMC. The left party has fielded Fuad Halim, a doctor by profession, from the seat and he has been actively campaigning in the area.
Halim has been attacked thrice, allegedly by "TMC goons" during his poll campaign. "It is been propagated that only the BJP is in the fight against the TMC. But had that been true, why is the TMC attacking the CPI(M) cadre in the area? This only shows that the ruling party is afraid of the CPI(M)," he said.
Apart from Abhishek Banerjee, Halim, Nilanjan Roy and the Congress' Soumya Aich, six other candidates are also in the fray from the seat where polling would be held on May 19, in the last phase of the general elections.