West Bengal's Asansol Lok Sabha constituency, for long a red fortress held by the CPI-M, is witnessing a fierce battle for ballot where the Trinamool Congress backed by its performance in the assembly and rural polls hopes to turn it green while the BJP riding high on star power is confident of giving it a saffron hue.
Comprising seven assembly segments in Burdwan district, this industrial belt will go to the polls May 7 along with five other constituencies spread across four other districts. The battle in Asansol is mainly between two-time MP Bansa Gopal Chowdhury of the Communist Party of India-Marxist, the Trinamool's trade union chief Dola Sen, and Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Bollywood singer Babul Supriyo. The Congress has fielded its rising youth leader, 31-year-old Indrani Mishra.
Ten other contestants, including Mohammad Mustaqim of the Garib Aadmi Party - a breakaway group of the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party - are also in the fray. Chowdhury seems confident of retaining the seat which has been electing a Marxist nominee since 1989. A former state minister, Chowdhury first bagged the seat in 2005 in a by-poll defeating Trinamool's Moloy Ghatak by over 2.29 lakh votes and repeated his success in 2009 though the margin came down to little over 72,000. "People here are disillusioned by the Trinamool and are wary of the consequences if the BJP comes to power, so they will vote for the CPI-M," says Chowdhury although his party could manage to get only two of the seven assembly seats in 2011.
On the other hand, the Trinamool, which bagged five of the seven constituencies in 2011 and also triumphed in the panchayat polls, has fielded Sen - a trade union leader - to get the backing of a fair amount of the total 14.5 lakh electorate employed in various industries. Refusing to admit that the BJP would benefit from the "wave" surrounding its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, Dola Sen says people will continue to support the Trinamool which has ushered in allround development in the state. "Much like the assembly and the panchayat polls, people of Asansol will vote for Trinamool. They are tired of the CPI-M which has done nothing in the last two decades and they will never vote for a communal party," asserts Sen, whose nomination has sparked discontent among a section of the party workers who consider her an "outsider".
To set things right, Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee held a number of meetings in the constituency and publicly asked the party leaders to work together to ensure Dola Sen's victory. Trinamool's new Rajya Sabha member Mithun Chakraborty has also canvassed for Sen. In the midst of seasoned politicos, greenhorn Supriyo, who has been drawing crowds as well as the ire of his rivals, is convinced of the BJP's lotus blooming for the first time in Asansol.
However, if the singer had thoughts of singing his way to parliament, he had to face the music himself after being accused by the Trinamool of entering a temple in a drunken state and hurting religious sentiments. However, the charge was rejected by the administration. But hardly had he wriggled out of the spot of bother, Supriyo found himself at the wrong end of a police complaint alleging several offences, including those of violations of the Arms Act.
Even though distraught over the "malicious campaign" by his rivals, the singer-turned-politico is not willing to give up and manages to find a silver lining. "Such dirty politics has made politics a dirty word in India, but at the same time such smear campaign is proof that the rivals are rattled by the stupendous public response that I have been getting," says Supriyo. The voice behind "Pari Hai Ek Pari...", "Chanda Chamke..." and "Dil Ne Dil Ko Pukara..." is now harping on the core issues of unemployment, drinking water and lack of infrastructure that has been plaguing this industrial hub for years.
While its candidate Suryya Ray managed a measly 5.5 percent of votes in 2009, the BJP this time around is hoping to cash in on the fact that a substantial percentage of the electorate here comprises Hindi speaking population. Besides aggressive campaigning by Supriyo, the BJP also brought in its star campaigner Modi who addressed a sell-out crowd.