Seeking to defeat the Bharatiya Janta Party in its own constituency in Asansol, West Bengal’s chief minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee chose to attack the BJP primarily on religious grounds, while citing several alleged failures of the Modi government.
Hindi-speaking migrants from Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh account for about 50 per cent of the total population in this constituency while in terms of religion, 75.18 per cent of the total voters in Asansol are Hindus. The BJP made inroads into this once Left Front bastion in 2014, winning it for the first time by primarily depending on the Hindu migrant vote.
In the last Parliamentary elections the BJP had upped its share of votes by 31.19 per cent, taking its total vote share to 36.75 per cent in Asansol. TMC, who had then fielded West Bengal state president of Indian National Trinamool Trade Union Congress, Dola Sen, lost 9.95 per cent votes to finish second with a 30.58 per cent vote share.
The very presence of gigantic coalfields, steel plants and other industries has made this city, which lies on the border with Jharkhand, a prime choice mainly for labourers, contractors, small-scale traders and others from Bengal’s Hindi-speaking neighbours.
It is this very voter-base that Banerjee has aimed to capture to wrestle control from union minister Babul Supriyo, the incumbent MP from this constituency. Supriyo once used to be a popular Bollywood singer.
Delivering her speech mostly in Hindi, Banerjee said, “The BJP is maligning Hindu religion and stating that the West Bengal government doesn’t allow Durga Puja, Saraswati Puja. I ask you (attendees), is it so? Go to Tarakeshwar, Bakreshwar, Kalighat and other religious places to see how we have improved them.”
Tarakeshwar, Bakreshwar and Kalighat are some of the prominent Hindu temples in the state.
“Jab chunav aata hai, tab Sita maiyya yaad aata hai and pichle paanch saal mein ek Ram Mandir nahin bana saka (Only when elections come, the BJP remembers Sita and in the past five years, they haven’t been able to build the Ram Mandir),” she added.
Although the region commands a sizeable Hindu population, communal riots broke out last year in the Asansol-Raniganj region centering a Ram Navami procession in Raniganj. One person was allegedly hacked to death while the deputy commissioner of police suffered mutilation due to a bomb attack.
While the BJP maintained TMC goons were behind the clashes, Banerjee, in her rally, claimed, “Neither the Hindus, nor the Muslims indulge in riots. It is the BJP and the RSS who do it. After the BJP won from this constituency, the riots started. Previously there were no riots. I appeal to the BJP not to defame the Hindu religion or Ram.”
She claimed entrants from the neighbouring Jharkhand were creating communal tension in this zone.
Banerjee also alleged that the much-touted coal mafia in this constituency have close ties with the BJP and the RSS.
The TMC has fielded Moonmoon Sen from this constituency against Supriyo. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Sen had defeated nine-time MP Basudeb Acharia from the Left Front by a margin of over eight per cent.