This industrial belt on the eastern bank of Ganga is witnessing a riveting fight among a seasoned politician, a trade unionist, a lawyer and a retired IPS officer for the Lok Sabha seat that will go to polls in the last phase on May 12.
Situated about 25-km from state capital Kolkata, the constituency has 12 candidates in the fray. Trinamool Congress leader and former Railways minister Dinesh Trivedi, who in 2012 had to resign after his proposed passenger fare hike irked party chief Mamata Banerjee, is seeking a second term. In a surprising poll outcome, he had defeated Tarit Topdar, a six-time sitting CPI(M) MP, by 56,024 votes in 2009.
CPI-M has won this seat nine times since 1951.
Barrackpore has about 22% Hindi-speaking settlers from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Muslims have 10% vote share in this constituency. This time Trivedi, a trained pilot and an MBA from the US, is up against CPI(M) trade unionist Subhasini Ali who is eyeing a comeback more than two-and-a-half decades after her last victory from Kanpur seat, retired IPS officer Ramesh Handa of BJP and lawyer Samrat Topadar of Congress. Trivedi goes to the contest on a strong footing in this seat which has over 12.84 lakh electorate. All the 7 assembly segments under this constituency - Amdanga, Bijpur, Naihati, Bhatpara, Jagaddal, Noapara and Barrackpore were secured by the TMC-Congress combine in 2011.
Besides, the ruling TMC has all three Zilla Parishad seats and 24 Panchayat Samiti seats under this constituency. Also, all the eight municipalities Halisahar, Naihati, Kanchrapara, Bhatpara, Garulia, North Barrackpore, Barrackpore and Titagarh under this constituency are in TMC's bag. But political observers say though statistics give Trivedi an edge over his opponents, votes for BJP could play a key role. Also, a section of voters have voiced angst over the lack of any major development activities carried out here in the past five years.
Trivedi, however, denies these charges, claiming he was in touch with the constituency and funds have also been spent from the MP-LAD fund for development works. "There is no Modi wave. There is only Mamata wave in Bengal. In two-and-a-half years only, she has transformed Bengal. The next government at the Centre cannot be formed without her support," says Trivedi, who has plans to convert Barrackpore into an international market for animal and agricultural produce, besides opening a medical college and hospital in the area.
With a large number of industrial units closing down in Barrackpore and its adjacent areas, all contestants are facing a volley of questions on revival plans. Barrackpore plays an important role as a centre for small-scale industries, jute industries, agriculture and handicraft. Ali, the daughter of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's Indian National Army comrades Prem Sahgal and Laxmi Sahgal, during her campaign has focussed on issues faced by women as she accused the West Bengal government of unleashing a 'reign of terror' in the state.
The 66-year-old Ali, wife of well-known filmmaker Muzaffar Ali, has long experience of working in the industrial belt of Kanpur and therefore is also eyeing votes of labourers in the jute mill belt here. Ali has rejected the 'outsider' tag and has been frequently interacting with people in slums and labour settlement areas. She has also rubbished opinion polls showing Trinamool Congress improving its tally. "Opinion polls will be proved wrong. Media reports have already said that Left is fighting back," she claimed.
Despite being removed from the post of Railway Minister by party chief Mamata, Trivedi still believes in her 'Bengal model of development' and blames the media for showing their relation in poor light. "Talk of my differences with Mamata is only media creation," says Trivedi, who joined Trinamool in 1998 to become its first general secretary after initial stints with Congress and Janata Dal.
Trivedi, however, refused to comment on Ali, although he criticised former CPI(M)-led Left Front government saying, "Nobody in Bengal will vote for the Marxists." Trivedi made his foray into politics by joining Congress in 1980 before moving to the Janata Dal in 1990. He shot to prominence when he asked Supreme Court to make the Vohra report on the criminalisation of politics in India public. This petition gave a push to the Right to Information movement.
In 1990, he became a Rajya Sabha member from West Bengal and went on to be the Chairman, Passengers Amenities Committee, Ministry of Railways. He is also one of the founder members of the All India Trinamool Congress.