An hour's drive through the corn farms of West Bengal's Uttar Dinajpur district is Dalkhola, the nearest town on the narrow strip of land squeezed between Bihar and Bangladesh.
It is near here in this neglected terrain of Roshakhoa, in the parliamentary constituency of Raiganj, that chief minister Mamata Banerjee landed in a helicopter,giving the villagers their first view of a chief minister and a helicopter. Muslims — constituting 50 per cent of the populationhere — is the main reason why the chief minister took the troubleto visit here, though she complains frequently about the high cost of hiring helicopters.
"I know many of you would be offering namaz this afternoon so I will finish this meeting by that time," Mamata told the packed ground."Allah ho Akbar!" she chanted, drawing cheers from a sea of humanity that filled the big school ground and also the roof top of the nearby girls' school.
"Where is Mithun?" a motley group of youngsters asked when Mamata stepped out of the Mahindra Scorpio. Mithun, still a superstar in this part of the country, did eventually join Mamata at her subsequent meetings on Saturday and Sunday at Alipurduar, Siliguri and Darjeeling.
"While the Congress prefers breaking up the country and creating states like Telengana,BJP is a party of the rioters," she said. "Now slowly proceed forthe namaz. I am so grateful that you have come today. Inshallah,Trinammool Congress will defeat all," she told the cheering crowd.
The Muslim community dominates the voting population in Raiganj with a share of 55%, coming after Jangipur and Murshidabad where Muslim voters account for 60% electorate.
All these constituencies have been traditional Congress strong holds.Mamata's idea is to splinter the Muslim vote bank and this time, she may succeed in doing so.
In 2009, Deepa Dasmunsi, wife of ailing Congress heavy weight Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, won with a comfortable vote share of more than 50%.But the picture in 2014 is different. With Trinamool fighting alone and fielding Das Munshi's brother Satya Ranjan against Deepa, it is hoping to split the traditional Dasmunshi loyalists and also the Muslims voters, who have been traditionally been favouring the Congress.
CPI(M),on its part, has fielded Md Salim, who contested earlier from Kolkata, with an eye on the Muslim vote. Yet, BJP and its actor-candidate Nimu Bhowmik may well catch a major share of the Hindu votes following a sustained campaign to strengthen its influence through membership drives.