After barely scraping through in 2012 bypolls on his father Pranab Mukherjee vacating the seat, Abhijit Mukherjee is now facing a stern test to rid himself of 'President's son' tag in this minority-dominated 'bidi' town where he is pitted against six Muslim rivals, among others.
The Lok Sabha seat is all set to witness a multi-cornered fight on April 24, as the sitting MP faces strong challenge from Left Front candidate Muzzafar Hossain, Trinamool Congress' Haji Nurul Islam and BJP's Samrat Ghosh. The Jamat backed pro-minority Welfare Party of India nominee Monirul Islam, Social Democratic Party's Md Sahabuddin and Socialist Unity Centre's Abdus Sayeed are candidates from smaller parties who could play spoilsport by cutting into Muslim votes, political observers feel. Some of these parties got about 3-5 per cent share in the 2012 bypolls. After his father vacated the seat on becoming the President in 2012, Abhijit won by a slender margin of 2,536 votes against Hossain.
"Whether it's a three-cornered or a four-cornered contest, I will win, whatever be the margin," Abhijit told PTI. While 54-year-old Abhijit -- a former executive of SAIL -- sounded confident about victory, analysts say the changed political equations and shift in vote-share is likely to make the battle a tough one for the son of India's first citizen.
Murshidabad district has been a Congress bastion since the late nineties under the leadership of Congress strongman and Minister of State for Railways, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury. Pranab Mukherjee won the seat for the first time in 2004. In 2009, he won by a big margin of 1.28 lakh votes riding on the various developmental projects that he triggered here. The results of the 2012 by-election raised eyebrows as BJP's vote share rose from 2.3 per cent in 2009 to 10.3 per cent. BJP was considered a political underdog in the 67 per cent Muslim majority seat. The total number of voters in this Lok Sabha seat is over 11 lakh.
Apart from statistics, the popular mood too does not seem to be in Abhijit's favour. He faced wrath of angry villagers of his constituency at Sabirpur in Raghunathgunj over the issue of poor supply of drinking water and abysmal condition of roads. He was forced to abandon his roadshow in the area. Bidi workers, who comprise a large chunk of Jangipur's electorate, also are not happy with Abhijit's performance as compared to his father. "He lacks the stature of Pranab babu. He had done a lot for us," said Ismail Sheikh, a 65-year-old bidi worker.
Trinamool's Nurul, a sitting MP from Basirhat, is hoping to snatch the seat from Congress riding on the anti-incumbency factor. "People will vote in favour of Mamata Banerjee's development model. Neither father nor son have done anything for the constituency," Nurul claimed.
However, district Congress leaders are hoping to win the seat for a fourth consecutive time irrespective of the various odds against Abhijit. Congress workers are channelising all their efforts for Abhijit to win as Adhir Chowdhury, who is also the state Congress President, is aiming to retain all three seats in Murshidabad. Congress is also hoping to consolidate maximum amount of minority votes here in the wake of the rise of 'Modi-wave' throughout the country, as the minorities in the constituency are considered to be conservative. This, in turn, could help Abhijit clinch victory.
"Given the so-called Modi wave it is likely that most of the Muslims votes would get consolidated in favour of Congress in North Bengal, including in Raiganj and Jangipur," political analyst Udayan Bandopadhya said. The district Congress has been synonymous with the name of Chowdhury, who despite various political infiltrations by erstwhile Left regime and present Trinamool Congress regime has been able to maintain Murshidabad as a Congress stronghold. "For Adhir da it would be a huge loss for his reputation if Abhijit Mukherjee loses as it would be regarded as his loss, which he can't afford," a district Congress leader said.